Catalytic dehydrogenative decarboxyolefination of carboxylic acids


Alkenes are among the most versatile building blocks and are widely used for the production of polymers, detergents and synthetic lubricants. Currently, alkenes are sourced from petroleum feedstocks such as naphtha. In light of the necessity to invent sustainable production methods, multiple approaches to making alkenes from abundant fatty acids have been evaluated. However, all attempts so far have required at least one stoichiometric additive, which is an obstruction for applications at larger scales. Here, we report an approach to making olefins from carboxylic acids, in which every additional reaction constituent can be used as a catalyst. We show how abundant fatty acids can be converted to alpha-olefins, and expand the method to include structurally complex carboxylic acids, giving access to synthetically versatile intermediates. Our approach is enabled by the cooperative interplay between a cobalt catalyst, which functions as a proton reduction catalyst, and a photoredox catalyst, which mediates oxidative decarboxylation; coupling both processes enables catalytic conversion of carboxylic acids to olefins.

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Fig. 1: Design of catalytic dehydrogenative decarboxyolefination of carboxylic acids.
Fig. 2: Mechanism experiments.

Data availability

Crystallographic data for structure 1 reported in this article have been deposited at the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre under deposition number 1831368. Copies of the data can be obtained free of charge via All other data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its Supplementary Information, or from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank A. Deege, M. S. Sterling and H. Hinrichs (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for liquid chromatography analysis, and G. Breitenbruch (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for HPLC purification. We thank J. Rust and H. Lee (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for X-ray crystallographic analysis, and M. Blumenthal, D. Kampen, S. Marcus, D. Richter and D. Margold (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for mass spectrometry. We thank S. Ruthe (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for gas chromatography analysis. We thank W. S. Ham (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for help with quantum yield measurements. We thank H. Zhou (Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung) for help with enantiomertic excess measurements.

Author information




X.S. developed the conceptual approach to the project and optimized the dehydrogenative decarboxyolefination reaction. X.S. and J.C. synthesized the starting materials. X.S. explored the substrate scope and conducted the mechanistic studies. X.S. and T.R. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. X.S., J.C. and T.R. prepared the Supplementary Information. T.R. directed the project.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tobias Ritter.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary experimental data, synthetic procedures, chemical compound characterization data and supplementary figures

Crystallographic data

CIF for compound 1; CCDC reference: 1831368

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Sun, X., Chen, J. & Ritter, T. Catalytic dehydrogenative decarboxyolefination of carboxylic acids. Nature Chem 10, 1229–1233 (2018).

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