Multinuclear group 4 catalysis: Olefin polymerization pathways modified by strong metal-metal cooperative effects

Jennifer P. McInnis, Massimiliano Delferro*, Tobin J. Marks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


ConspectusPolyolefins are produced today catalytically on a vast scale, and the manufactured polymers find use in everything from artificial limbs and food/medical packaging to automotive and electrical components and lubricants. Although polyolefin monomers are typically cheap (e.g., ethylene, propylene, α-olefins), the resulting polymer properties can be dramatically tuned by the particular polymerization catalyst employed, and reflect a rich interplay of macromolecular chemistry, materials science, and physics. For example, linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), produced by copolymerization of ethylene with linear α-olefin comonomers such as 1-butene, 1-hexene, or 1-octene, has small but significant levels of short alkyl branches (C2, C 4, C6) along the polyethylene backbone, and is an important technology material due to outstanding rheological and mechanical properties. In 2013, the total world polyolefin production was approximately 211 million metric tons, of which about 11% was LLDPE. Historically, polyolefins were produced using ill-defined but highly active heterogeneous catalysts composed of supported groups 4 or 6 species (usually halides) activated by aluminum alkyls. In 1963, Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta received the Nobel Prize for these discoveries. Beginning in the late 1980s, a new generation of group 4 molecule-based homogeneous olefin polymerization catalysts emerged from discoveries by Walter Kaminsky, a team led by James Stevens at The Dow Chemical Company, this Laboratory at Northwestern University, and a host of talented groups in Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These new "single-site" catalysts and their activating cocatalysts were far better defined and more rationally tunable in terms of structure, mechanism, thermodynamics, and catalyst activity and selectivity than ever before possible. An explosion of research advances led to new catalysts, cocatalysts, deeper mechanistic understanding of both the homogeneous and heterogeneous systems, macromolecules with dramatically altered properties, and large-scale industrial processes.It is noteworthy that many metalloenzymes employ multiple active centers operating in close synergistic proximity to achieve high activity and selectivity. Such enzymes were the inspiration for the research discussed in this Account, focused on the properties of multimetallic olefin polymerization catalysts. Here we discuss how modifications in organic ligand architecture, metal⋯metal proximity, and cocatalyst can dramatically modify polyolefin molecular weight, branch structure, and selectively for olefinic comonomer enchainment. We first discuss bimetallic catalysts with identical group 4 metal centers and then heterobimetallic systems with either group 4 or groups 4 + 6 catalytic centers. We compare and contrast the polymerization properties of the bimetallic catalysts with their monometallic analogues, highlighting marked cooperative enchainment effects and unusual polymeric products possible via the proximate catalytic centers. Such multinuclear olefin polymerization catalysts exhibit the following distinctive features: (1) unprecedented levels of polyolefin branching; (2) enhanced enchainment selectivity for linear and encumbered α-olefin comonomers; (3) enhanced polyolefin tacticity and molecular weight; (4) unusual 1,2-insertion regiochemistry for styrenic monomers; (5) modified chain transfer kinetics, such as M-polymer β-hydride transfer to the metal or incoming monomer; (6) LLDPE synthesis with a single binuclear catalyst and ethylene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2545-2557
Number of pages13
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 19 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


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