Friday, February 15, 2008
Catalytic Hydrogenation - now fire free
(A) You are drunk (or the following day when you have a hang over)
(B) You are in a hurry
Recently, I violated Commandment B and decided to put a large scale catalytic hydrogenation on really, really fast. Bad idea!
Now hopefully most of you realise that the addition of palladium on charcoal (or charcoal alone) to organic solvents can result in instant bonfire. Unfortunately the chemists hand is often right above the flask as the catalyst gets added and some very nasty burns can result. Even worse the whole thing may take off and you'll frantically be looking for a fire extinguisher (Always know where the fire extinguisher is. You will need it one day).
There is an easy way to avoid this problem. If you first remove all atmospheric air inside your flask there will be no fire. In other words what you have to do is flush the flask with nitrogen or argon. I normally hook my flask up in such a way that I can evacuate it with a pump and fill it with nitrogen. I've shown one of my recent setups on the picture. You can obviously connect things in many different ways depending on what equipment you have available.
I normally evacuate the flask and fill it with nitrogen at least three times. Only then do I proceed to add my catalyst. After addition I repeat the evacuate the flask procedure but this time I flush the flask with hydrogen and at the end I attach a big fat balloon with hydrogen gas and stir the reaction mixture vigorously.
The other day when I was in a big hurry I decided to skip the flushing with nitrogen step (for the first time ever) and as a consequence I had my first Pd on charcoal fire. I was very lucky and didn't burn myself because the weighing paper was shielding my hand. The drama was quickly over as I had my lab book handy and sealed the flask with it. The hydrogenation worked fine and I made it in time to the pub. However, next time I think I'll skip the first pint with the boys and flush that flask as I normally do. D!