The addition to the nucleophile is irreversible due to the high pKa value of the alkyl component (pKa = ~45). Grignard reagents react with electrophilic chemical compounds. It should be noted that such reactions are not ionic; the Grignard reagent exists as an organometallic cluster (in ether). Victor Grignard (University Of Nancy, France) was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of such reagents. The disadvantage of the Grignard reagents is that they readily react with protic solvents (such as water), or functional groups with acidic protons, such as alcohols and amines. In fact, atmospheric humidity in the lab can dictate one's success when trying to synthesize a Grignard reagent from magnesium turnings and an alkyl halide. To circumvent this issue, the reaction vessel is often flame-dried to evaporate all moisture, then sealed to prevent more from entering.
An example of the Grignard reaction is a key step in the industrial production of Tamoxifen:
However, with hindered Grignard reagents, the reaction may proceed by single-electron transfer.
In a reaction involving Grignard reagents, it is important to ensure that no water is present, which would otherwise cause the reagent to rapidly decompose. Thus, most Grignard reactions occur in solvents such as anhydrous diethyl ether or tetrahydrofuran, because the oxygen of these solvents stabilizes the magnesium reagent. The reagent may also react with oxygen present in the atmosphere, inserting an oxygen atom between the carbon base and the magnesium halide group. Usually, this side-reaction may be limited by the volatile solvent vapors displacing air above the reaction mixture. However, it may be preferable for such reactions to be carried out in nitrogen or argon atmospheres, especially for smaller scales.
Grignard reagents are formed via the action of an alkyl or aryl halide on magnesium metal. The reaction is conducted by adding the organic halide to a suspension of magnesium in an ether, which provides ligands required to stabilize the organomagnesium compound. Typical solvents are diethyl ether and tetrahydrofuran. Oxygen and protic solvents such as water or alcohols are not compatible with Grignard reagents. The reaction proceeds through single electron transfer.
Grignard reactions often start slowly. As is common for reactions involving solids and solution, initiation follows an induction period during which reactive magnesium becomes exposed to the organic reagents. After this induction period, the reactions can be highly exothermic. Alkyl and aryl bromides and iodides are common substrates. Chlorides are also used, but fluorides are generally unreactive, except with specially activated magnesium, such as Rieke magnesium.
Via the Schlenk equilibrium, Grignard reagents form varying amounts of diorganomagnesium compounds (R = organic group, X = halide):
In addition, Grignard reagents will react with other various electrophiles.
Also the Grignard reagent is very useful for forming carbon-heteroatom bonds.
For the coupling of aryl halides with aryl Grignards, nickel chloride in THF is also a good catalyst. Additionally, an effective catalyst for the couplings of alkyl halides is dilithium tetrachlorocuprate (Li2CuCl4), prepared by mixing lithium chloride (LiCl) and copper(II) chloride (CuCl2) in THF. The Kumada-Corriu coupling gives access to styrenes.
The synthetic utility of Grignard oxidations can be increased by a reaction of Grignards with oxygen in presence of an alkene to an ethylene extended alcohol. This modification requires aryl or vinyl Grignards. Adding just the Grignard and the alkene does not result in a reaction demonstrating that the presence of oxygen is essential. Only drawback is the requirement of at least two equivalents of Grignard although this can partly be circumvented by the use of a dual Grignard system with a cheap reducing Grignard such as n-butylmagnesium bromide.