Kinetics and mechanistic details of bulk ZnO dissolution using a thiol–imidazole system†
Oxide dissolution is important for metal extraction from ores and has become an attractive route for the preparation of inks for thin film solution deposition; however, oxide dissolution is often kinetically challenging. While binary “alkahest” systems comprised of thiols and N-donor species, such as amines, are known to dissolve a wide range of oxides, the mechanism of dissolution and identity of the resulting solute(s) remain unstudied. Here, we demonstrate facile dissolution of both bulk synthetic and natural mineral ZnO samples using an “alkahest” that operates via reaction with thiophenol and 1-methylimidazole (MeIm) to give a single, pseudotetrahedral Zn(SPh)2(MeIm)2 molecular solute identified by X-ray crystallography. The kinetics of ZnO dissolution were measured using solution 1H NMR, and the reaction was found to be zero-order in the presence of excess ligands, with more electron withdrawing para-substituted thiophenols resulting in faster dissolution. A negative entropy of activation was measured by Eyring analysis, indicating associative ligand binding in, or prior to, the rate determining step. Combined experimental and computational surface binding studies on ZnO reveal stronger, irreversible thiophenol binding compared to MeIm, leading to a proposed dissolution mechanism initiated by thiol binding to the ZnO surface with the liberation of water, followed by alternating MeIm and thiolate ligand additions, and ultimately cleavage of the ligated zinc complex from the ZnO surface. Design rules garnered from the mechanistic insight provided by this study should inform the dissolution of other bulk oxides into inks for solution processed thin films.