High-level ab initio molecular orbital calculations are used to study the thermodynamics and electrochemistry relevant to the mechanism of atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP). Homolytic bond dissociation energies (BDEs) and standard reduction potentials (SRPs) are reported for a series of alkyl halides (R-X; R = CH 2CN, CH(CH 3)CN, C(CH 3) 2CN, CH 2COOC 2H 5, CH(CH 3)COOCH 3, C(CH 3) 2COOCH 3, C(CH 3) 2COOC 2H 5, CH 2Ph, CH(CH 3)Ph, CH(CH 3)Cl, CH(CH 3)OCOCH 3, CH(Ph)COOCH 3, SO 2Ph, Ph; X = Cl, Br, I) both in the gas phase and in two common organic solvents, acetonitrile and dimethylformamide. The SRPs of the corresponding alkyl radicals, R (*), are also examined. The computational results are in a very good agreement with the experimental data. For all alkyl halides examined, it is found that, in the solution phase, one-electron reduction results in the fragmentation of the R-X bond to the corresponding alkyl radical and halide anion; hence it may be concluded that a hypothetical outer-sphere electron transfer (OSET) in ATRP should occur via concerted dissociative electron transfer rather than a two-step process with radical anion intermediates. Both the homolytic and heterolytic reactions are favored by electron-withdrawing substituents and/or those that stabilize the product alkyl radical, which explains why monomers such as acrylonitrile and styrene require less active ATRP catalysts than vinyl chloride and vinyl acetate. The rate constant of the hypothetical OSET reaction between bromoacetonitrile and Cu (I)/TPMA complex was estimated using Marcus theory for the electron-transfer processes. The estimated rate constant k OSET = approximately 10 (-11) M (-1) s (-1) is significantly smaller than the experimentally measured activation rate constant ( k ISET = approximately 82 M (-1) s (-1) at 25 degrees C in acetonitrile) for the concerted atom transfer mechanism (inner-sphere electron transfer, ISET), implying that the ISET mechanism is preferred. For monomers bearing electron-withdrawing groups, the one-electron reduction of the propagating alkyl radical to the carbanion is thermodynamically and kinetically favored over the one-electron reduction of the corresponding alkyl halide unless the monomer bears strong radical-stabilizing groups. Thus, for monomers such as acrylates, catalysts favoring ISET over OSET are required in order to avoid chain-breaking side reactions.
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