Origin of Stability in Branched Alkanes



The potential origins of stability in branched alkanes are investigated, paying close attention to two recent hypotheses: geminal steric repulsion and protobranching. All alkane isomers through C6H14 along with heptane and octane were investigated at the MPW1B95/6-311++G(d,p) level. Their geminal steric repulsion, total steric repulsion, and orbital interactions were evaluated by using natural bond orbital analysis. All measures of steric repulsion fail to explain the stability of branched alkanes. The extra stability of branched alkanes and protobranching, in general, is tied to stabilizing geminal σ→σ* delocalization, particularly of the type that involves adjacent C[BOND]C bonds and, thus, preferentially stabilizes branched alkanes. This picture is corroborated by valence bond calculations that attribute the effect to additional ionic structures (e.g., CH3+ :CH2 :CH3 and CH3: CH2: CH3+ for propane) that are not possible without protobranching.