Bulk gold powder (∼5–50 μm particles) catalyzes the reactions of isocyanides with amines and amine N-oxides to produce ureas. The reaction of n-butyl isocyanide (nBu–N≡C) with di-n-propylamine and N-methylmorpholine N-oxide in acetonitrile, which was studied in the greatest detail, produced 3-butyl-1,1-dipropylurea (O═C(NHnBu)(NnPr2)) in 99% yield at 60 °C within 2 h. Sterically and electronically different isocyanides, amines, and amine N-oxides react successfully under these conditions. Detailed studies support a two-step mechanism that involves a gold-catalyzed reaction of adsorbed isocyanide with the amine N-oxide to form an isocyanate (RN═C═O), which rapidly reacts with the amine to give the urea product. These investigations show that bulk gold, despite its reputation for poor catalytic activity, is capable of catalyzing these reactions.
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