Hydrogen evolution catalyzed by cobaloximes

Acc Chem Res. 2009 Dec 21;42(12):1995-2004. doi: 10.1021/ar900253e.


Natural photosynthesis uses sunlight to drive the conversion of energy-poor molecules (H(2)O, CO(2)) to energy-rich ones (O(2), (CH(2)O)(n)). Scientists are working hard to develop efficient artificial photosynthetic systems toward the "Holy Grail" of solar-driven water splitting. High on the list of challenges is the discovery of molecules that efficiently catalyze the reduction of protons to H(2). In this Account, we report on one promising class of molecules: cobalt complexes with diglyoxime ligands (cobaloximes). Chemical, electrochemical, and photochemical methods all have been utilized to explore proton reduction catalysis by cobaloxime complexes. Reduction of a Co(II)-diglyoxime generates a Co(I) species that reacts with a proton source to produce a Co(III)-hydride. Then, in a homolytic pathway, two Co(III)-hydrides react in a bimolecular step to eliminate H(2). Alternatively, in a heterolytic pathway, protonation of the Co(III)-hydride produces H(2) and Co(III). A thermodynamic analysis of H(2) evolution pathways sheds new light on the barriers and driving forces of the elementary reaction steps involved in proton reduction by Co(I)-diglyoximes. In combination with experimental results, this analysis shows that the barriers to H(2) evolution along the heterolytic pathway are, in most cases, substantially greater than those of the homolytic route. In particular, a formidable barrier is associated with Co(III)-diglyoxime formation along the heterolytic pathway. Our investigations of cobaloxime-catalyzed H(2) evolution, coupled with the thermodynamic preference for a homolytic route, suggest that the rate-limiting step is associated with formation of the hydride. An efficient water splitting device may require the tethering of catalysts to an electrode surface in a fashion that does not inhibit association of Co(III)-hydrides.