13.10: Preparation of Carboxylic Acids: Hydrolysis of Nitriles
Nitriles (R–CN) can be converted into carboxylic acids (R–COOH) upon treatment with aqueous acids, i.e., upon hydrolysis of nitriles. Under base-catalyzed conditions, carboxylate anions (R–COO−) are formed.
The reaction facilitates a two-step conversion of haloalkanes to carboxylic acids. Here, haloalkanes are first converted to nitriles using sodium cyanide via an SN2 reaction. The resultant nitrile is then hydrolyzed to yield carboxylic acids bearing one more carbon than the haloalkane used. The reaction uses dimethyl sulfoxide, alcohols, or water as solvents. As the process involves the SN2 mechanism, tertiary alkyl halides are seldom used.