Iron-only hydrogenase mimics. Thermodynamic aspects of the use of electrochemistry to evaluate catalytic efficiency for hydrogen generation

Inorg Chem. 2006 Nov 13;45(23):9181-4. doi: 10.1021/ic060984e.


Voltammetry is widely used for the evaluation of iron-only hydrogenase mimics and other potential catalysts for hydrogen generation using various dipolar aprotic solvents. Effective catalysts show enhanced current in the presence of a proton donor at the potential where the catalyst is reduced. To facilitate the comparison of catalytic efficiencies, this paper provides a simple means of calculating the standard potential for reduction of the acid, HA, according to the half reaction 2HA + 2e- <==> H2 + 2A-. This standard potential depends on the pKa of HA in the solvent being used. It is thermodynamically impossible for reduction of HA to occur at less negative potentials than the standard potential, and the most effective catalysts will operate at potentials as close as possible to the standard potential. In addition, direct reduction of HA at the electrode will compete with the catalyzed reduction, thus complicating evaluation of the rate of the catalyzed reaction. Glassy carbon electrodes, commonly used in such evaluations, show a quite large overpotential for direct reduction of HA so that the necessary corrections are small. However, catalysis at very negative potentials will be contaminated by significant direct reduction of HA at glassy carbon. It is demonstrated that direct reduction can be almost completely suppressed by using a mercury or amalgamated gold electrode, even at very negative potentials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acids / chemistry
  • Acids / metabolism
  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry*
  • Biomimetic Materials / metabolism*
  • Catalysis
  • Electrochemistry
  • Electrodes
  • Hydrogen / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen / metabolism*
  • Hydrogenase / chemistry*
  • Hydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Solvents
  • Thermodynamics


  • Acids
  • Solvents
  • Hydrogen
  • Iron
  • Hydrogenase