We have quantum chemically studied alkali cation-catalyzed aromatic Diels-Alder reactions between benzene and acetylene forming barrelene using relativistic, dispersion-corrected density functional theory. The alkali cation-catalyzed aromatic Diels-Alder reactions are accelerated by up to 5 orders of magnitude relative to the uncatalyzed reaction and the reaction barrier increases along the series Li+ < Na+ < K+ < Rb+ < Cs+ < none. Our detailed activation strain and molecular-orbital bonding analyses reveal that the alkali cations lower the aromatic Diels-Alder reaction barrier by reducing the Pauli repulsion between the closed-shell filled orbitals of the dienophile and the aromatic diene. We argue that such Pauli mechanism behind Lewis-acid catalysis is a more general phenomenon. Also, our results may be of direct importance for a more complete understanding of the network of competing mechanisms towards the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in an astrochemical context.
- Activation Strain Model
- Alkali Cation
- Aromatic Diels-Alder Reaction
- Density Functional Calculations