Mechanistic Investigations of Ruthenium Catalyzed Dehydrogenative Thioester Synthesis and Thioester Hydrogenation

Michael Rauch, Jie Luo, Liat Avram, Yehoshoa Ben-David, David Milstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have recently reported the previously unknown synthesis of thioesters by coupling thiols and alcohols (or aldehydes) with liberation of H2, as well as the reverse hydrogenation of thioesters, catalyzed by a well-defined ruthenium acridine-9H based pincer complex. These reactions are highly selective and are not deactivated by the strongly coordinating thiols. Herein, the mechanism of this reversible transformation is investigated in detail by a combined experimental and computational (DFT) approach. We elucidate the likely pathway of the reactions, and demonstrate experimentally how hydrogen gas pressure governs selectivity toward hydrogenation or dehydrogenation. With respect to the dehydrogenative process, we discuss a competing mechanism for ester formation, which despite being thermodynamically preferable, it is kinetically inhibited due to the relatively high acidity of thiol compared to alcohol and, accordingly, the substantial difference in the relative stabilities of a ruthenium thiolate intermediate as opposed to a ruthenium alkoxide intermediate. Accordingly, various additional reaction pathways were considered and are discussed herein, including the dehydrogenative coupling of alcohol to ester and the Tischenko reaction coupling aldehyde to ester. This study should inform future green, (de)hydrogenative catalysis with thiols and other transformations catalyzed by related ruthenium pincer complexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2795-2807
Number of pages13
JournalACS Catalysis
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • DFT
  • Ruthenium catalyst
  • alcohols
  • dehydrogenative coupling
  • hydrogenation
  • thioester
  • thiols

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)

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