19.14: Preparation of 1° Amines: Azide Synthesis
Direct alkylation of ammonia produces polyalkylated amines, along with a quaternary ammonium salt. To exclusively prepare primary amines, the azide synthesis method can be used.
Azide ions act as good nucleophiles and react with unhindered alkyl halides to form alkyl azides. Alkyl azides do not participate in further nucleophilic substitution reactions, thereby eliminating the chances of polyalkylated products. Alkyl azides are reduced by hydride-based reducing agents, like lithium aluminum hydride, or by catalytic hydrogenation to primary amines. The driving force for such reactions is the elimination of nitrogen gas.
Azide synthesis also works with other electrophiles like epoxides to produce amino alcohols through stereoselective ring-opening reactions. Alkyl azides have an explosive nature and must be carefully handled.