Union carbide polymerization catalysts: from uncovering active site structures to designing molecularly-defined analogs†
The Union Carbide (UC) ethylene polymerization catalysts, based on chromocene dispersed on silica, show distinct features from the Phillips catalysts, but share the same heated debate regarding the structure of their active sites. Based on a combination of IR, EPR spectroscopies, labeling experiments, and DFT modeling, we identified monomeric surface-supported Cr(III) hydrides, (SiO)Cr(Cp)–H, as the active sites of the UC catalyst. These sites are formed in the presence of grafted and adsorbed chromocene as well as residual surface OH groups, only possible at high Cr loading, and involve a C–H activation of the Cp ring. These Cr-hydrides initiate polymerization, yielding Cr(III) alkyl species that insert ethylene through a Cossee–Arlman-type mechanism, as evidenced by spectroscopic studies. These insights inspired the design of a well-defined analog, CpCr(CH(SiMe3)2)2 grafted on partially dehydroxylated silica, that shows similar spectroscopic and polymer structure to the UC catalyst, further supporting the proposed active site structure.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2022 Chemical Science HOT Article Collection