We report on a DFT investigation of initiation, propagation, and termination in the organopolymerization of N-methyl N-carboxyanhydrides toward cyclic poly(N-substituted glycine)s, promoted by N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHC). Calculations support the experimentally based hypothesis of two competing initiation pathways. The first leading to formation of a zwitterionic adduct by nucleophilic addition of the NHC to one of the carbonyl groups of monomer. The second via acid–base reactivity, starting with the NHC promoted abstraction of a proton from the methylene group of the monomer, leading to an ion-pair-type adduct, followed by nucleophilic attack of the adduct to a new monomer molecule. Chain elongation can proceed from both the initiation adducts via nucleophilic attack of the carbamate chain-end to a new monomer molecule via concerted elimination of CO2 from the carbamate chain-end. Energy barriers along all the considered termination pathways are remarkably higher that the energy barrier along the chain elongation pathways, consistent with the quasi-living experimental behavior. Analysis of the competing termination pathways suggests that the cyclic species determined via MALDI-TOF MS experiments consists of a zwitterionic species deriving from nucleophilic attack of the N atom of the carbamate chain-end to the C═O group bound to the NHC moiety.
Bibliographical noteKAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This work was supported by funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).