Strategies for switching the mechanism of proton-coupled electron transfer reactions illustrated by mechanistic zone diagrams†
The mechanism by which proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) occurs is of fundamental importance and has great consequences for applications, e.g. in catalysis. However, determination and tuning of the PCET mechanism is often non-trivial. Here, we apply mechanistic zone diagrams to illustrate the competition between concerted and stepwise PCET-mechanisms in the oxidation of 4-methoxyphenol by Ru(bpy)33+-derivatives in the presence of substituted pyridine bases. These diagrams show the dominating mechanism as a function of driving force for electron and proton transfer (ΔG0ET and ΔG0PT) respectively [Tyburski et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2021, 143, 560]. Within this framework, we demonstrate strategies for mechanistic tuning, namely balancing of ΔG0ET and ΔG0PT, steric hindrance of the proton-transfer coordinate, and isotope substitution. Sterically hindered pyridine bases gave larger reorganization energy for concerted PCET, resulting in a shift towards a step-wise electron first-mechanism in the zone diagrams. For cases when sufficiently strong oxidants are used, substitution of protons for deuterons leads to a switch from concerted electron–proton transfer (CEPT) to an electron transfer limited (ETPTlim) mechanism. We thereby, for the first time, provide direct experimental evidence, that the vibronic coupling strength affects the switching point between CEPT and ETPTlim, i.e. at what driving force one or the other mechanism starts dominating. Implications for solar fuel catalysis are discussed.