C–H oxidation in fluorenyl benzoates does not proceed through a stepwise pathway: revisiting asynchronous proton-coupled electron transfer†
2-Fluorenyl benzoates were recently shown to undergo C–H bond oxidation through intramolecular proton transfer coupled with electron transfer to an external oxidant. Kinetic analysis revealed unusual rate-driving force relationships. Our analysis indicated a mechanism of multi-site concerted proton–electron transfer (MS-CPET) for all of these reactions. More recently, an alternative interpretation of the kinetic data was proposed to explain the unusual rate-driving force relationships, invoking a crossover from CPET to a stepwise mechanism with an initial intramolecular proton transfer (PT) (Costentin, Savéant, Chem. Sci., 2020, 11, 1006). Here, we show that this proposed alternative pathway is untenable based on prior and new experimental assessments of the intramolecular PT equilibrium constant and rates. Measurement of the fluorenyl 9-C–H pKa, H/D exchange experiments, and kinetic modelling with COPASI eliminate the possibility of a stepwise mechanism for C–H oxidation in the fluorenyl benzoate series. Implications for asynchronous (imbalanced) MS-CPET mechanisms are discussed with respect to classical Marcus theory and the quantum-mechanical treatment of concerted proton–electron transfer.