Uncovering the Role of Oxygen Atom Transfer in Ru-Based Catalytic Water Oxidation

J Am Chem Soc. 2016 Dec 7;138(48):15605-15616. doi: 10.1021/jacs.6b08409. Epub 2016 Nov 22.


The realization of artificial photosynthesis carries the promise of cheap and abundant energy, however, significant advances in the rational design of water oxidation catalysts are required. Detailed information on the structure of the catalyst under reaction conditions and mechanisms of O-O bond formation should be obtained. Here, we used a combination of electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), stopped flow freeze quench on a millisecond-second time scale, X-ray absorption (XAS), resonance Raman (RR) spectroscopy, and density functional theory (DFT) to follow the dynamics of the Ru-based single site catalyst, [RuII(NPM)(4-pic)2(H2O)]2+ (NPM = 4-t-butyl-2,6-di(1',8'-naphthyrid-2'-yl)pyridine, pic = 4-picoline), under the water oxidation conditions. We report a unique EPR signal with g-tensor, gx = 2.30, gy = 2.18, and gz = 1.83 which allowed us to observe fast dynamics of oxygen atom transfer from the RuIV═O oxo species to the uncoordinated nitrogen of the NPM ligand. In few seconds, the NPM ligand modification results in [RuIII(NPM-NO)(4-pic)2(H2O)]3+ and [RuIII(NPM-NO,NO)(4-pic)2]3+ complexes. A proposed [RuV(NPM)(4-pic)2═O]3+ intermediate was not detected under the tested conditions. We demonstrate that while the proximal base might be beneficial in O-O bond formation via nucleophilic water attack on an oxo species as shown by DFT, the noncoordinating nitrogen is impractical as a base in water oxidation catalysts due to its facile conversion to the N-O group. This study opens new horizons for understanding the real structure of Ru catalysts under water oxidation conditions and points toward the need to further investigate the role of the N-O ligand in promoting water oxidation catalysis.

Publication types

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