Using a one-electron shuttle for the multielectron reduction of CO2 to methanol: kinetic, mechanistic, and structural insights

J Am Chem Soc. 2010 Aug 25;132(33):11539-51. doi: 10.1021/ja1023496.


Pyridinium and its substituted derivatives are effective and stable homogeneous electrocatalysts for the aqueous multiple-electron, multiple-proton reduction of carbon dioxide to products such as formic acid, formaldehyde, and methanol. Importantly, high faradaic yields for methanol have been observed in both electrochemical and photoelectrochemical systems at low reaction overpotentials. Herein, we report the detailed mechanism of pyridinium-catalyzed CO(2) reduction to methanol. At metal electrodes, formic acid and formaldehyde were observed to be intermediate products along the pathway to the 6e(-)-reduced product of methanol, with the pyridinium radical playing a role in the reduction of both intermediate products. It has previously been thought that metal-derived multielectron transfer was necessary to achieve highly reduced products such as methanol. Surprisingly, this simple organic molecule is found to be capable of reducing many different chemical species en route to methanol through six sequential electron transfers instead of metal-based multielectron transfer. We show evidence for the mechanism of the reduction proceeding through various coordinative interactions between the pyridinium radical and carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, and related species. This suggests an inner-sphere-type electron transfer from the pyridinium radical to the substrate for various mechanistic steps where the pyridinium radical covalently binds to intermediates and radical species. These mechanistic insights should aid the development of more efficient and selective catalysts for the reduction of carbon dioxide to the desired products.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry*
  • Catalysis
  • Electrons*
  • Formaldehyde / chemistry
  • Kinetics
  • Methanol / chemical synthesis*
  • Methanol / chemistry
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pyridinium Compounds / chemistry
  • Quantum Theory


  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methanol