Any unsaturated hydrocarbon containing one or more pairs of carbon atoms linked by a double bond (see covalent bond, saturation). Olefins may be classified by whether the double bond is in a ring (cyclic) or a chain (acyclic, or aliphatic) or by the number of double bonds (monoolefin, diolefin, etc.). Rare in nature, olefins are obtained by the cracking of petroleum fractions at high temperatures. The simplest ones (ethylene, propylene, butylene, butadiene, and isoprene) are the basis of the petrochemicals industry. They react by adding other chemical agents at the double bond to form derivatives or polymers.
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In organic chemistry, an alkene, olefin, or olefine is an unsaturated chemical compound containing at least one carbon-to-carbon double bond. The simplest acyclic alkenes, with only one double bond and no other functional groups, form a homologous series of hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n.
The simplest alkene is ethylene (C2H4), which has the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) name ethene. Alkenes are also called olefins (an archaic synonym, widely used in the petrochemical industry). Aromatic compounds are often drawn as cyclic alkenes, but their structure and properties are different and they are not considered to be alkenes.
Like single covalent bonds, double bonds can be described in terms of overlapping atomic orbitals, except that unlike a single bond (which consists of a single sigma bond), a carbon-carbon double bond consists of one sigma bond and one pi bond. This double bond is stronger than a single covalent bond (611 kJ/mol for C=C vs. 347 kJ/mol for C—C) and also shorter with an average bond length of 1.33 Angstroms (133 pm).
Each carbon of the double bond uses its three sp² hybrid orbitals to form sigma bonds to three atoms. The unhybridized 2p atomic orbitals, which lie perpendicular to the plane created by the axes of the three sp² hybrid orbitals, combine to form the pi bond. This bond lies outside the main C—C axis, with half of the bond on one side and half on the other.
Rotation about the carbon-carbon double bond is restricted because it involves breaking the pi bond, which requires a large amount of energy (264 kJ/mol in ethylene). As a consequence substituted alkenes may exist as one of two isomers called a cis isomer and a trans isomer, or alternatively (for more complex alkenes) a Z and a E isomer. For example, in cis-but-2-ene the two methyl substituents face the same side of the double bond and in trans-but-2-ene they face the opposite side; these two isomers are slightly different in their chemical and physical properties.
It is certainly not impossible to twist a double bond. In fact, a 90° twist requires an energy approximately equal to half the strength of a pi bond. The misalignment of the p orbitals is less than expected because pyramidalization takes place (See: pyramidal alkene). trans-Cyclooctene is a stable strained alkene and the orbital misalignment is only 19° with a dihedral angle of 137° (normal 120°) and a degree of pyramidalization of 18°. This explains the dipole moment of 0.8 D for this compound (cis-isomer 0.4 D) where a value of zero is expected. The trans isomer of cycloheptene is only stable at low temperatures.
Alkenes serve as a feedstock for the petrochemical industry because they can participate in a wide variety of reactions.
Catalytic synthesis of higher α-alkenes (of the type RCH=CH2) can also be achieved by a reaction of ethylene with the organometallic compound triethylaluminium in the presence of nickel, cobalt or platinum.
The E2 mechanism provides a more reliable -elimination method than E1 for most alkene syntheses. Most E2 eliminations start with an alkyl halide or alkyl sulfonate ester (such as a tosylate or triflate). When an alkyl halide is used, the reaction is called a dehydrohalogenation. For unsymmetrical products the more substituted alkenes (those with fewer hydrogens attached to the C=C) tend to predominate (see Saytzeff's rule).Two common methods of elimination reactions are dehydrohalogenation of alkyl halides and dehydration of alcohols. A typical example is shown below; note that the H that leaves must be anti to the leaving group, even though this leads to the less stable Z-isomer.
An alcohol may also be converted to a better leaving group (e.g., xanthate), so as to allow a milder syn-elimination such as the Chugaev elimination and the Grieco elimination. Related reactions include eliminations by β-haloethers (the Boord olefin synthesis) and esters (ester pyrolysis).
Alkenes can be prepared indirectly from alkyl amines. The amine or ammonia is not a suitable leaving group, so the amine is first either alkylated (as in the Hofmann elimination) or oxidized to an amine oxide (the Cope reaction) to render a smooth elimination possible. Hofmann elimination is unusual in that the less substituted (non-Saytseff) alkene is usually the major product. The Cope reaction is a syn-elimination that occurs at or below 150 °C, for example:
The Wittig reaction involves reaction of an aldehyde or ketone with a Wittig reagent (or phosphorane) of the type Ph3P=CHR to produce an alkene and Ph3P=O. The Wittig reagent is itself prepared easily from triphenylphosphine and an alkyl halide. The reaction is quite general and many functional groups are tolerated, even esters, as in this example:
Related to the Wittig reaction is the Peterson olefination. This uses a less accessible silicon-based reagent in place of the phosphorane, but it allows for the selection of E or Z products. If an E-product is desired, another alternative is the Julia olefination, which uses the carbanion generated from a phenyl sulfone. The Takai olefination based on an organochromium intermediate also delivers E-products. A titanium compound, Tebbe's reagent, is useful for the synthesis of methylene compounds; in this case, even esters and amides react.
A pair of carbonyl compounds can also be reductively coupled together (with reduction) to generate an alkene. Symmetrical alkenes can be prepared from a single aldehyde or ketone coupling with itself, using Ti metal reduction (the McMurry reaction). If two different ketones are to be coupled, a more complex, indirect method such as the Barton-Kellogg reaction may be used.
Other couplings, such as the Stille, Suzuki and Negishi involve the reaction of an alkenyl, allyl or aryl halide (or triflate) with an alkenyl, alkyl (not for Stille) or aryl derivative of a metal or metalloid. For example, Suzuki coupling has been used on a citronellal derivative for the synthesis of caparratriene, a natural product which is highly active against leukemia:
For the preparation multisubstituted alkenes, carbometalation of alkynes can give rise to a large variety of alkene derivatives.
In higher alkenes, where isomers exist that differ in location of the double bond, the following numbering system is used: