|Acids and bases|
According to the classical definition, a superacid is an acid with an acidity greater than that of 100% pure sulfuric acid, which has a Hammett acidity function (H0) of −12. According to the modern definition, a superacid is a medium in which the chemical potential of the proton is higher than in pure sulfuric acid. Commercially available superacids include trifluoromethanesulfonic acid (CF3SO3H), also known as triflic acid, and fluorosulfuric acid (HSO3F), both of which are about a thousand times stronger (i.e. have more negative H0 values) than sulfuric acid. Most strong superacids are prepared by the combination of a strong Lewis acid and a strong Brønsted acid. The strongest superacid of this kind is fluoroantimonic acid.
The term superacid was originally coined by James Bryant Conant in 1927 to describe acids that were stronger than conventional mineral acids. This definition was refined by Ronald Gillespie in 1972, as any acid with an H0 value lower than −12. George A. Olah prepared the so-called magic acid, so-named for its ability to attack hydrocarbons, by mixing antimony pentafluoride (SbF5) and fluorosulfonic acid (FSO3H). The name was coined after a candle was placed in a sample of magic acid. The candle dissolved, showing the ability of the acid to protonate hydrocarbons, which under normal acidic conditions do not protonate to any extent.
- CH4 + H+ → CH+
5 → CH+
3 + H2
3 + 3 CH4 → (CH3)3C+ + 3H2
Common uses of superacids include providing an environment to create, maintain, and characterize carbocations. Carbocations are intermediates in numerous useful reactions such as those forming plastics and in the production of high-octane gasoline.
Nomenclature and mechanism
Fluoroantimonic acid, nominally (H
6), is 1016 times stronger than 100% sulfuric acid, and can produce solutions with a H0 down to –28. Fluoroantimonic acid is a combination of hydrogen fluoride (HF) and antimony pentafluoride (SbF5). In this system, HF releases its proton (H+) concomitant with the binding of F− by the antimony pentafluoride. The resulting anion (SbF−
6) is both a weak nucleophile and a weak base.
The proton from superacids has been popularly said to become "naked", accounting for the system's extreme acidity. In the physical sense, the acidic "proton" is never completely free (as an unbound proton) but is bound to the anion, albeit weakly. The proton hops from anion to anion in superacids via the Grotthuss mechanism, just as happens to acidic "protons" in water. The extreme acidity of the acids is due to the ease with which this proton is transferred to substances that cannot normally be "protonated" (such as hydrocarbons), due to the very high stability of the conjugate-base anion (such as SbF−
6) after it donates the proton.
In petrochemistry, superacidic media are used as catalysts, especially for alkylations. Typical catalysts are sulfated oxides of titanium and zirconium or specially treated alumina or zeolites. The solid acids are used for alkylating benzene with ethene and propene as well as difficult acylations, e.g. of chlorobenzene.
The following values show the Hammett acidity function for several superacids, the strongest being fluoroantimonic acid. Increased acidity is indicated by smaller (in this case, more negative) values of H0.
- Fluoroantimonic acid (H0 = −31.3)
- Magic acid (H0 = −19.2)
- Carborane acid (H0 < −18, indirectly determined and depends on substituents)
- Fluorosulfuric acid (H0 = −15.1)
- Hydrogen fluoride (H0 = −15.1)
- Triflic acid (H0 = −14.9)
- Sulfuric acid (H0 = −11.9)
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- Herlem, Michel (1977). "Are reactions in superacid media due to protons or to powerful oxidising species such as SO3 or SbF5?". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 49: 107–113. doi:10.1351/pac197749010107.
- Schneider, Michael (2000). "Getting the Jump on Superacids". Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
- Michael Röper, Eugen Gehrer, Thomas Narbeshuber, Wolfgang Siegel "Acylation and Alkylation" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2000. doi:10.1002/14356007.a01_185
- Gillespie, R. J.; Peel, T. E. (1973-08-01). "Hammett acidity function for some superacid systems. II. Systems sulfuric acid-[fsa], potassium fluorosulfate-[fsa], [fsa]-sulfur trioxide, [fsa]-arsenic pentafluoride, [sfa]-antimony pentafluoride and [fsa]-antimony pentafluoride-sulfur trioxide". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 95 (16): 5173–5178. doi:10.1021/ja00797a013. ISSN 0002-7863.
- Liang, Joan-Nan Jack (1976). The Hammett Acidity Function for Hydrofluoric Acid and some related Superacid Systems (Ph.D. Thesis, advisor: R. J. Gillespie) (PDF). Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University. p. 109.