The data that can be mined from the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis of compounds in solution provides chemists with access to structural information as well as to the quantitative information that is inherent to this spectroscopic technique. These characteristics are of significant utility when applied to process analytical technology (PAT), particularly in the development of robust synthetic processes (1).
Traditionally, one associates solution NMR with structural identification of isolated compounds, dissolved in the appropriate deuterated solvent in an NMR tube, which is then placed in the magnet, and the relevant processes (i.e., locking, shimming, data acquisition, and processing) produce the NMR spectrum for the compound of interest. Although this method provides a wealth of information, many obstacles hinder its application to a PAT platform. The most significant obstacle is the prohibitive cost of conducting reactions, even on small scale, due to the requirement of deuterated solvents for signal lock. Even the use of partially deuterated solvent mixtures (~10% v/v deuterated in protonated solvent) can be costly. Manual sampling can prove time-consuming and alter the reaction mixture due to sample isolation. The advent of solvent suppression techniques, coupled with the advances in NMR flow-cell technology originally applied in the area of liquid chromatography (LC)–NMR and high throughput NMR spectroscopy, circumvented these problems and has led to the adoption of NMR as an online reaction-monitoring technique.
NMR analysis of reaction mixtures has advantages over traditional reaction-monitoring techniques. Apart from the aforementioned quantitation and structural elucidation, NMR is also highly discriminatory in reaction media containing multiple species in solution, including structural isomers and diastereomers. This selectivity can be enhanced using additional nuclei, such as 19F or 31P as reaction-monitoring handles, if possessed by the analyte species under investigation. Because this technique is also noninvasive, reactive intermediates with sufficient lifetimes can be tracked and identified, leading to a much greater understanding of the mechanistic details of a particular reaction under investigation without the need for expensive and time-consuming isotope labeling experiments. This means that the process can be investigated as is, generating a true picture of what is occurring during the course of the reaction. In addition to reaction-mixture structure elucidation, kinetic information can easily be extracted from the data furnished by NMR reaction monitoring.Several financial and physical barriers may prevent broad implementation of this technique as a method of analysis in manufacturing processes. It is unlikely that each reactor on a manufacturing site could be coupled to a high field NMR spectrometer for reaction monitoring. There are much more cost-effective and mobile PAT alternatives available. The development of low-field portable magnets has helped to overcome the logistical issues associated with fixed high field superconducting magnets (2). Although these instruments are unlikely to provide detailed structural information on species in the reaction medium being analyzed, the data generated is nonetheless quantitative and can easily be used to monitor the progress of reactions on large scale. Alternatively, the knowledge gained via NMR reaction monitoring during the development phase of a process can readily be transferred to a more portable PAT tool (e.g., infrared [IR], Raman, or LC), which can be implemented at the manufacturing stage, or as part of a QbD strategy.