Alkynes can be prepared by dehydrohalogenation of vicinal or geminal dihalides in the presence of a strong base like sodium amide in liquid ammonia. The reaction proceeds with the loss of two equivalents of hydrogen halide (HX) via two successive E2 elimination reactions.
In the first elimination step, the strong base abstracts the proton from the dihalide that is oriented anti to the leaving group. Since E2 reactions follow a concerted pathway, the abstraction of a proton and departure of the halide leaving group occur simultaneously to form a haloalkene.
In the second elimination reaction, another equivalent of the strong base reacts with the haloalkene in a similar fashion to give the desired alkyne.
Likewise, geminal dihalides, when treated with two equivalents of a sodium amide, undergo double dehydrohalogenation to give alkynes.
Dehydrohalogenation of terminal dihalides yields terminal alkynes as the final product. In the presence of a strong base like sodium amide, terminal alkynes get converted to acetylide ions. In such cases, a third equivalent of the base is required to complete the dehydrohalogenation of the remaining haloalkene.
Protonation of the acetylide ions with water or an aqueous acid completes the reaction.
Dehydrohalogenation of vicinal dihalides is a useful intermediate step in the conversion of alkenes to alkynes. For example, chlorination of 1-propene gives 1,2-dichloropropane – a vicinal dihalide, which upon double dehydrohalogenation yields 1-propyne.
Similarly, alkynes can also be synthesized from ketones via dehydrohalogenation of geminal dihalides. For example, treatment of acetone with phosphorous pentachloride yields 2,2-dichloropropane – a geminal dihalide, which undergoes double dehydrohalogenation to give 1-propyne.
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