Energy-Efficient Hydrogen Evolution by Fe–S Electrocatalysts: Mechanistic Investigations

The intrinsic catalytic property of a Fe–S complex toward H<sub>2</sub> evolution was investigated in a wide range of acids. The title complex exhibited catalytic events at −1.16 and −1.57 V (vs Fc<sup>+</sup>/Fc) in the presence of trifluoromethanesulfonic acid (HOTf) and trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), respectively. The processes corresponded to the single reduction of the Fe-hydride-S-proton and Fe-hydride species, respectively. When anilinium acid was used, the catalysis occurred at −1.16 V, identical with the working potential of the HOTf catalysis, although the employment of anilinium acid was only capable of achieving the Fe-hydride state on the basis of the spectral and calculated results. The thermodynamics and kinetics of individual steps of the catalysis were analyzed by density functional theory (DFT) calculations and electroanalytical simulations. The stepwise CCE or CE (C, chemical; E, electrochemical) mechanism was operative from the HOTf or TFA source, respectively. In contrast, the involvement of anilinium acid most likely initiated a proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) pathway that avoided the disfavored intermediate after the initial protonation. Via the PCET pathway, the heterogeneous electron transfer rate was increased and the overpotential was decreased by 0.4 V in comparison with the stepwise pathways. The results showed that the PCET-involved catalysis exhibited substantial kinetic and thermodynamic advantages in comparison to the stepwise pathway; thus, an efficient catalytic system for proton reduction was established.