The key role of R-NHC couplings (R = C, H, heteroatom) and M-NHC bond cleavage in the evolution of M/NHC complexes and formation of catalytically active species
Complexes of metals with N-heterocyclic carbene ligands (M/NHC) are typically considered the systems of choice in homogeneous catalysis due to their stable metal−ligand framework. However, it becomes obvious that even metal species with a strong M-NHC bond can undergo evolution in catalytic systems, and processes of M-NHC bond cleavage are common for different metals and NHC ligands. This review is focused on the main types of the M-NHC bond cleavage reactions and their impact on activity and stability of M/NHC catalytic systems. For the first time, we consider these processes in terms of NHC-connected and NHC-disconnected active species derived from M/NHC precatalysts and classify them as fundamentally different types of catalysts. Problems of rational catalyst design and sustainability issues are discussed in the context of the two different types of M/NHC catalysis mechanisms.