Bioinspired design of redox-active ligands for multielectron catalysis: effects of positioning pyrazine reservoirs on cobalt for electro- and photocatalytic generation of hydrogen from water†
Mononuclear metalloenzymes in nature can function in cooperation with precisely positioned redox-active organic cofactors in order to carry out multielectron catalysis. Inspired by the finely tuned redox management of these bioinorganic systems, we present the design, synthesis, and experimental and theoretical characterization of a homologous series of cobalt complexes bearing redox-active pyrazines. These donor moieties are locked into key positions within a pentadentate ligand scaffold in order to evaluate the effects of positioning redox non-innocent ligands on hydrogen evolution catalysis. Both metal- and ligand-centered redox features are observed in organic as well as aqueous solutions over a range of pH values, and comparison with analogs bearing redox-inactive zinc(II) allows for assignments of ligand-based redox events. Varying the geometric placement of redox non-innocent pyrazine donors on isostructural pentadentate ligand platforms results in marked effects on observed cobalt-catalyzed proton reduction activity. Electrocatalytic hydrogen evolution from weak acids in acetonitrile solution, under diffusion-limited conditions, reveals that the pyrazine donor of axial isomer 1-Co behaves as an unproductive electron sink, resulting in high overpotentials for proton reduction, whereas the equatorial pyrazine isomer complex 2-Co is significantly more active for hydrogen generation at lower voltages. Addition of a second equatorial pyrazine in complex 3-Co further minimizes overpotentials required for catalysis. The equatorial derivative 2-Co is also superior to its axial 1-Co congener for electrocatalytic and visible-light photocatalytic hydrogen generation in biologically relevant, neutral pH aqueous media. Density functional theory calculations (B3LYP-D2) indicate that the first reduction of catalyst isomers 1-Co, 2-Co, and 3-Co is largely metal-centered while the second reduction occurs at pyrazine. Taken together, the data establish that proper positioning of non-innocent pyrazine ligands on a single cobalt center is indeed critical for promoting efficient hydrogen catalysis in aqueous media, akin to optimally positioned redox-active cofactors in metalloenzymes. In a broader sense, these findings highlight the significance of electronic structure considerations in the design of effective electron–hole reservoirs for multielectron transformations.
- This article is part of the themed collections: In celebration of Kazunari Domen’s 65th birthday, 2018 and Fundamentals and Applications of Inorganic Chemistry