A Publication
of Reliable Methods
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Annual Volume
Org. Synth. 1943, 23, 45
DOI: 10.15227/orgsyn.023.0045
[Ketene, diethyl ketal]
Submitted by S. M. McElvain and D. Kundiger.
Checked by R. L. Shriner and C. H. Tilford.
1. Procedure
In a 2-l. round-bottomed flask, preferably fitted with an interchangeable ground-glass joint, are placed 650 g. (820 ml.) of absolute tert-butyl alcohol (Note 1) and 39.1 g. (1 gram atom) of potassium (Note 2). A reflux condenser is attached to the flask and the mixture is refluxed until all the potassium is dissolved (about 8 hours). The solution is allowed to cool slightly, and 198 g. (1 mole) of bromoacetal, together with some boiling chips (Note 3) is quickly added. A cream-colored precipitate of potassium bromide begins to deposit immediately. The flask is attached at once to a closely indented 46-cm. Vigreux column, equipped with a glass insulating jacket and a total-reflux partial take-off still head1 (Note 4), and the tert-butyl alcohol is distilled from an oil bath (about 120–130°) at the rate of 25 drops per minute with a reflux ratio at the still head of about 6:1. This operation requires 16–18 hours (Note 5), and at the end of this time the temperature of the oil bath is raised to 160° and maintained there until no more alcohol comes over. The bath is then lowered and allowed to cool while the pressure within the fractionating system is very gradually reduced to 200 mm. and held there by a barostat (Note 6).
A small amount of the alcohol comes over at 51–52° /200 mm., and then, after the heating bath is replaced, 4–6 ml. of an intermediate fraction distils. This is followed by a fraction which boils at 83–86°/200 mm. and which is collected as pure ketene acetal. A total of 78–87 g. is obtained (67–75%). The major portion is collected while the temperature of the bath is 120–140°, and the remainder is obtained by raising the bath temperature to 170–180°.
Ketene acetal is best stored in a bottle made of alkaline glass which is preferably new and dusted with sodium tert-butoxide (Note 7). The glass stopper should be very well greased. Even with these precautions a small amount of a voluminous precipitate of the white polymer will develop.
2. Notes
1. The tert-butyl alcohol is refluxed over quicklime, distilled, and then redistilled over 1 g. of potassium per 100 g. of the alcohol. Improved yields of ketene acetal are obtained from tert-butyl alcohol that has been recovered from a previous preparation of the acetal.
2. The potassium should be cut into pieces sufficiently small to pass through the neck of the flask. Sodium in tert-butyl alcohol can be used, but it is necessary to carry out the subsequent reaction at 125° in sealed tubes. The amount of tert-butyl alcohol specified is sufficient to provide for complete solution of the potassium as the tert-butoxide.
3. An ebullator tube through which dry nitrogen was drawn has been used for the subsequent distillation under reduced pressure, but it is far more advantageous to use about six boiling chips. Because of its rapid reaction with water, ketene acetal must be protected from moisture of the air.
4. The still head described by Whitmore and Lux1 is most satisfactory for controlling this distillation. The tube leading from the take-off of the column is attached to the receiver through a fraction cutter protected from moisture by a large tube of calcium chloride. The checkers replaced the Vigreux column by a 50-cm. column filled with glass helices and surrounded by a heating jacket. With this column the removal of the tert-butyl alcohol was complete in 5–6 hours.
5. A slower rate of fractionation does not result in an increased yield, but interrupted fractionation results in a decreased yield.
6. A good barostat is necessary. Control of the reduced pressure by adjusting a "leak" in the system is entirely unsatisfactory, for, as a result of a small increase in pressure, the liquid ceases to boil, the column drains, and the boiling chips are rendered ineffective. The barostat used by the submitters is essentially that described by Ellis2 in which the relay is replaced by the thermionic relay described by Waddle and Saeman.3
7. The column and apparatus should not be washed with acid cleaning solution because the glass surface is left acidic and it then catalyzes the polymerization of ketene acetal.4 A thin coating of the polymer on the walls of the apparatus is not detrimental. If polymer must be removed, it is best done by dissolving it in a 10% solution of hydrochloric acid in acetone; a deep red solution results.
3. Discussion
Ketene acetal may be prepared by the action of potassium tert-butoxide on iodoacetal5 or bromoacetal.4
This preparation is referenced from:

References and Notes
  1. Whitmore and Lux, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 54, 3451 (1932).
  2. Ellis, Ind. Eng. Chem., Anal. Ed., 4, 318 (1932).
  3. Waddle and Saeman, Ind. Eng. Chem., Anal. Ed., 12, 225 (1940); Ferry, Ind. Eng. Chem., Anal. Ed., 10, 647 (1938).
  4. Johnson, Barnes, and McElvain, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 62, 964 (1940).
  5. Beyerstedt and McElvain, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 58, 529 (1936).

Chemical Abstracts Nomenclature (Collective Index Number);
(Registry Number)


absolute tert-butyl alcohol


hydrochloric acid (7647-01-0)

nitrogen (7727-37-9)

acetone (67-64-1)

sodium (13966-32-0)

potassium bromide (7758-02-3)

potassium (7440-09-7)

Ketene diethylacetal (2678-54-8)

Ketene, diethyl ketal

ketene acetal

tert-butyl alcohol (75-65-0)

potassium tert-butoxide (865-47-4)


sodium tert-butoxide (865-48-5)