A search of the Cambridge structure database reveals 52 instances of the cyclopropenium cation with a variety of counter-anions, 77 cyclopentadienide anions with a variety of counter-cations and one (SOWMOG, private communication to CSD) where the two sub-structures are common. The pyridinium-cyclopropenium fragment is actually a di-cation stabilized with dimethylamino substituents, with these charges balanced by two cyclopentadienide anions stabilized with ester substituents. The stacking distance between the ion-pairs is ~3.5-3.6Å, a bit larger than normal π-π stacking distances of 3.2-3.3Å
So could a “pure” cyclopropenium cyclopentadienide ion-pair exist, and if so what would its π-π stacking distance be? A ωB97XD/Def2-TZVPPD/SCRF=water calculation (DOI: 10.14469/hpc/2442) provides one answer to this question; 2.57Å!‡ It is a true minimum in the potential energy surface (all +ve force constants) with a calculated dipole moment of only 7.57D. This species is “only” 27.1 kcal/mol higher in ΔG than the neutral hydrocarbon (DOI: 10.14469/hpc/2443), a difference which is as low as it is because of the gain in aromatic stabilization of two rings upon ion-pair formation.
A few posts back, I was considering candidates for the most polar neutral compound synthesized and I suggested a candidate with a dipole moment of ~22D, based as it happens on cyclopropenium and cyclopentadienide rings directly connected by a bond. So when this bond is removed and the two rings are allowed to stack one above the other, we now have an interesting inversion of the original challenge: what is the least-polar ionic organic compound (ionic in the sense of being an unconnected ion-pair)?
Here are some more properties of this intriguing “neutral” ion-pair.
- It has a number of low-frequency modes with correspond to the two rings moving with respect to each other (ν 216 cm-1)
- The molecular electrostatic potential illustrates the sense of polarization, with negative region (orange) residing on the 5-membered ring:
- The most stable π-type molecular orbital (below) reminds of the π-complex formed in the benzidine rearrangement and that in fact modelling this ion-pair may require a multi-reference (CASSCF) wavefunction, with the single-determinantal one used here only being a first approximation.
- A QTAIM analysis of the electron density topology shows only weak “bond” connectors between the two rings, with ρ(r) being typical of weak interactions such as hydrogen bonds.
- An ELF (electron localisation function) analysis also holds no surprises, with all the electron density basins (purple) confined to the two rings, just as expected of an ion-pair.
- I will leave one further question to a future discussion; what happens to the aromaticity and ring currents of the two individual rings as they combine to form this ion-pair? Might this property be connected to the very close separation between the two rings?
So we have a remarkably “neutral” ionic hydrocarbon to match the “ionic” neutral organic molecules previously discussed. This ion-pair may yet prove to have interesting properties, even if is unlikely to be synthesized without the addition of stabilising substituents.
‡ For example, the stacking distance in graphite is 3.35Å.