Chem Explorers

Revolutionizing Industries: The Power of Metathesis Reactions

Metathesis Reaction: An Exchange of Substituents

Chemical reactions are fascinating occurrences, especially when it comes to ones that involve the exchange or rearrangement of substrates – metathesis reactions. Metathesis reactions can occur in various forms, including olefin metathesis, salt metathesis, alkyne metathesis, and enyne metathesis, among others.

These reactions involve the exchange of substituents between chemical species, leading to the formation of different products.

Types of Metathesis Reactions

Olefin (Alkene) Metathesis

Olefin metathesis, also known as alkene metathesis, is a type of metathesis reaction that has gained popularity among many industries. This chemical reaction involves an exchange of substituents of two compounds that contain carbon-carbon double bonds or alkene.

The reaction is catalyzed by a transition metal-based carbene catalyst, which was first discovered by Yves Chauvin in 1971. The catalysts are designed to increase the reaction’s efficiency and specificity in the desired reaction pathway.

Richard R. Schrock and Robert H.

Grubbs improved on this process and developed a highly active and selective catalyst group known as the Schrock and Grubbs catalysts.

Olefin (Alkene) Metathesis

Cross Metathesis

Cross metathesis reaction involves the exchange of two terminal alkenes or a terminal alkene and a non-terminal alkene. The reaction often results in homocoupling, leading to the production of a dimer.

Cross-metathesis is often used as a means of introducing new substituents into a specific site on complex alkene substrates.

Ring-Closing Metathesis (RCM)

RCM involves cyclization of a diene or polyene to form a cycloalkene. Ruthenium-carbene catalyst is often used in this reaction.

RCM reaction has found applications in the synthesis of natural products such as alkaloids, terpenes, and steroids.

Ring-Opening Metathesis Polymerization (ROMP)

ROMP is a type of olefin metathesis that is used in chain polymerization of cyclic olefins, such as norbornene. The catalyst used in ROMP is Grubbs catalyst, which initiates the polymerization reaction.

ROMP has contributed significantly to the polymer industry, and its applications range from medical spheres, such as drug delivery, to commercial products such as bulletproof vests.

Salt Metathesis

Salt metathesis, also known as double-replacement reaction, is a type of chemical reaction that involves the exchange of inorganic salts’ cation and anion. The result is the formation of two new salts, with the former anion bonding with the former cation.

This reaction often leads to the formation of a precipitate, which is a solid that separates from the reaction mixture and settles at the bottom of the container.

Salt Metathesis

Applications of

Salt Metathesis

The salt metathesis reaction finds application in many fields, including wastewater treatment and metallurgy. Salt metathesis has been used in wastewater treatment as a means of removing contaminants from water sources.

In the metallurgical industry, the reaction is applied to precipitate metal ions to bring about desired chemical reactions. Other applications of salt metathesis include the production of vinegar, cleaning surfaces, and extinguishing fires.

Other Types of Metathesis Reactions

Aside from olefin metathesis and salt metathesis, other types of metathesis reactions exist, including alkyne metathesis, alkane metathesis, and acyclic diene metathesis (ADMET). Ethenolysis and enyne metathesis are also other types of metathesis reactions that have resulted in significant advances in the chemical industry.

The above-discussed metathesis reactions and their applications have revolutionized the scientific and chemical industries, and their potential continues to be explored. Proper utilization of these reaction types can lead to the creation of different compounds that were previously thought impossible to synthesize, leading to the development of new pharmaceuticals or materials.

Catalysts used in Olefin Metathesis

Olefin metathesis is a vital chemical reaction that has revolutionized the synthesis of many organic compounds. Olefin metathesis reactions are catalyzed by transition metal carbene complexes, commonly referred to as catalysts.

Two catalysts have gained popularity in olefin metathesis reactions: Grubbs catalyst and Schrock catalyst.

Grubbs Catalyst

Grubbs catalyst is a ruthenium-based complex discovered by Robert Grubbs in 1990. This catalyst is known for its remarkable selectivity, functional group tolerance, and high efficiency in olefin metathesis reactions.

Grubbs catalyst contains a ruthenium atom that is coordinated with a carbene ligand, a phosphine ligand, and an isopropoxide ligand. Grubbs catalyst is most suited for olefin metathesis reactions that involve electron-rich substrates.

These substrates, which include esters, alcohols, and amines, have the capacity to deactivate the catalyst’s active site. Grubbs catalyst is also employed in other transformations such as cross-coupling reactions, hydrogenation, cycloaddition, and hydrogen borrowing reactions.

Schrock Catalyst

The Schrock catalyst is a molybdenum-based catalyst used for olefin metathesis reactions. The Schrock catalyst’s molybdenum atom is coordinated with an alkoxide ligand, an imido ligand, and a bulky pentamethylcyclopentadienyl (Cp*) ligand.

The Schrock catalyst is known for its high stability and efficiency in olefin metathesis reactions. It is particularly suited for the metathesis of sterically demanding substrates, including electron-deficient olefins.

Schrock catalyst is also used in other transformations such as cyclopropanation, alkene epoxidation, and imine metathesis.

Applications of Metathesis Reactions

Commercial Applications

Metathesis reactions have numerous commercial applications spanning a wide range of industries. In the petrochemical industry, olefin metathesis reactions are used to produce higher olefins of different molecular weights, which are crucial components in the production of detergents, lubricants, and polymers.

This process can be achieved even with lower-value waste products, resulting in improved sustainability.

Petrochemical Industry

The petrochemical industry heavily relies on metathesis reactions. The industry uses metathesis reactions to transform feedstock into higher value-added products, which include propylene, butene, and pentene.

For example, light olefins from pyrolysis gas oils and refinery off-gases are transformed into carbon number-specific olefins by applying metathesis reactions. This ensures maximum efficiency in the use of resources and increases product yields.

Ring-opening Metathesis of Dicyclopentadiene

Ring-opening metathesis of dicyclopentadiene (DCPD) is an essential industrial process used for producing polycyclopentadiene polymers. The reaction is conducted using Grubbs catalyst to break DCPD dimer bonds through ring-opening.

The result is a cross-linked polycyclopentadiene polymer, which is commonly used in the production of bullet-proof products.

Other Types of Metathesis Reactions

Metathesis reactions also have applications in other fields, including insecticides, pharmaceuticals, food items, polymers, and papers. The insecticide industry uses metathesis reactions to synthesize insecticides such as pyrethroids, which are used to manage pests and parasites.

Pharmaceuticals such as anticancer and antiviral drugs have been synthesized using metathesis reactions. The reaction has also been utilized in the production of food preservatives.

Polymers and papers have also been synthesized using metathesis reactions. These products range from disposable food packaging to high-tech materials used in space exploration.


In summary, olefin metathesis reactions are fundamental chemical processes with many applications in the scientific and industrial fields. Catalysts such as Grubbs and Schrock catalyst have been developed to enhance and improve the efficiency and selectivity of these reactions.

The benefits of metathesis reactions are actualized across numerous industries, with sustainability being paramount in many of the processes. Metathesis reactions will continue to impact scientific progress and drive innovation.

In conclusion, metathesis reactions have become an integral part of many chemical industries. Grubbs and Schrock catalysts have been developed to enhance the efficiency and selectivity of these reactions, and the applications of metathesis reactions are numerous and diverse.

The petrochemical industry, production of bullet-proof products, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and food packaging are just a few examples of industries leveraging the benefits of metathesis reactions. The possibilities of metathesis reactions are vast and will continue to play a vital role in the continued progress of scientific and industrial growth.


What is metathesis reaction? Metathesis reaction is a chemical reaction that involves the exchange or rearrangement of substituents between chemical species.

What are the types of metathesis reactions? The types of metathesis reactions include olefin metathesis, salt metathesis, alkyne metathesis, and enyne metathesis, among others.

What are catalysts and how do they enhance metathesis reactions? Catalysts are compounds used to increase the reaction’s efficiency and specificity in the desired reaction pathway.

Catalysts enhance metathesis reactions by lowering the activation energy of a reaction. What are the commercial applications of metathesis reactions?

The commercial applications of metathesis reactions include the petrochemical industry, bullet-proof products, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and food packaging, among others. What is Grubbs catalyst and Schrock catalyst?

Grubbs catalyst is a ruthenium-based complex, while Schrock catalyst is a molybdenum-based catalyst, both of which are widely used in olefin metathesis reactions. How do metathesis reactions contribute to sustainability efforts?

Metathesis reactions can increase product yields and transform lower-value waste products into higher-value-added products, contributing to sustainable efforts in various industries.

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