Study of alcohol dehydration reaction

The study of dehydration of alcohol in organic chemistry is important for school and college courses for examination. Primary alcohols when heated with concentrated sulfuric acid at 170° to 180°C to produce alkenes.
C₂H₅OH + H⁺

C₂H₅OH₂⁺

H₂O + C₂H₅⁺

CH₂=CH₂ + H⁺

Secondary and tertiary-alcohol are best carried out by using dilute sulfuric acid. Tertiary alcohol can polymerize under the influence of concentrated sulfuric acid.

Acid-catalyzed dehydration of primary alcohol gives 1-alkenes but secondary and tertiary alcohol gives a mixture of alkenes due to rearrangement of carbocation form by an alcohol dehydration reaction.

CH₃–CH₂–CH(CH₃)–OH

CH₃–CH₂–CH=CH₂ + CH₃–CH=CH–CH₃

Rearrangement reaction avoided by dehydration of alcohol over alumina in pyridine.
Alcohol dehydration reaction by alumina
Alcohol dehydration reaction

Saytzeff's Rule for the alcohol dehydration reaction

Rearrangement often occurs with acid-catalyzed dehydration. All the three types of alcohol may behave in this way via a carbonium ion that may undergo methyl or hydride ion 1,2 shift. The major product is in accordance with Saytzeff's rule.
This rule may be stated in two ways
  1. The predominant product is the most substituted alkene that is the one carrying the largest number of alkyl substituents.
  2. Hydrogen is eliminated preferentially from the carbon atom joined to the least number of hydrogen atoms.

Cyclic elimination reaction of alkenes

Most eliminations occur by polar mechanism, whereas cyclic eliminations are uni-molecular non-polar reactions which take place in one step. Most occur when the compound is subjected to pyrolysis, and proceed via a cyclic transition state.

This mechanism is supported by the fact that these chemical reactions show a negative entropy of activation.

Pyrolysis of ester reaction, the ester usually acetate.

R₂CHCH₂OCOMe ⟶ RCH=CH₂ + HOCOMe.

Ethanolic potassium hydroxide on alkyl halides

Propene can be prepared from propyl bromide by the action of ethanolic potassium hydroxide.

CH₃CH₂CH₂Br + KOH → CH₃CH=CH₂.

Dehalogenation of 1,1 - di-halogen derivatives of alkanes by means of zinc dust and methanol produces alkenes.

CH₃CH₂CHBr₂ → CH₃CH=CH₂.


Zinc dust and methanol also dehalogenation of 1,2- di halogen derivative of alkanes. Propene from propene dibromide.

CH₃CHBrCH₂Br+Zn → CH₃CH=CH₂

Heating of quaternary ammonium hydroxide

(C₂H₅)₄N⁺ OH⁻ → CH₃CH=CH₂

Boord has prepared alkenes by conversion of an aldehyde into its chloro - ether. This chloro - ether reacts with bromine followed by a Grignard reagent and finally treating the product with zinc and n-butanol.


This method is very useful for preparing alkenes of definite structure, and an interesting point about it is the replacement of the ∝-chlorine atom by bromine when the ɑ-chloro ether undergoes bromination in the β-position.
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Triphenylphosphonium ylide

The witting reagent, alkylidene-triphenyl phosphorane prepared by treating triarylphosphine usually the latter with an alkyl halide in ether solution. The resulting phosphonium salt is treated with a strong base such as C₆H₅Li, BuLi, NaNH₂, NaH, C₂H₅ONa.


Ph₃P + CH₃Br

Ph₃PCH₃⁺Br⁻ + PhLi

Ph₃P=CH₂

Wittig reaction affords an important and useful method for the synthesis of alkenes by the treatment of aldehyde or ketones with triphenylphosphonium ylide or phosphorane.

Ph₃P = CH₂ + Ph₂C=O

Ph₂C = CH₂ + Ph₃P = O
Triphenylphosphonium ylide for preparation of alkenes
Triphenylphosphonium ylide