Oxidant free conversion of alcohols to nitriles over Ni-based catalysts†
Organic nitriles are significant and versatile industrial feedstocks, but their conventional synthetic protocols require hazardous starting materials and/or harsh reaction conditions posing environmental and health risks. Herein, we established a Ni-based catalytic system to convert primary alcohols to nitriles with ammonia gas as the sole nitrogen source under oxidant-free conditions at merely 190–230 °C. Based on isotope labelling experiments, in situ DRIFTS and control experiments, the reaction pathway was identified to follow a dehydrogenation–imination–dehydrogenation sequence, with α-carbon C–H bond breakage as the rate determining step. Ni is superior to all noble metal catalysts tested, due to its excellent dehydrogenation ability that is not inhibited by NH3. The support plays an auxiliary role, promoting the reaction between aldehyde and ammonia to form imine as a critical intermediate. Ni/Al2O3 catalyst prepared via a deposition–precipitation method, featuring both excellent dispersion of metallic Ni and suitable acid sites, enabled alcohol transformation into nitrile under unprecedented low temperature. Various alcohols were converted into their corresponding nitriles in high conversions and yields (both up to 99%), while the catalyst kept 90% of its original activity after 48 hours in the stability test, highlighting the wide applicability and the robustness of the catalytic system.