Molecular Adsorbates Switch on Heterogeneous Catalysis: Induction of Reactivity by N‑Heterocyclic Carbenes

We report the N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC)-induced activation of an otherwise unreactive Pd/Al2O3 catalyst. Surface analysis techniques demonstrate the NHC being coordinated to the palladium particles and affecting their electronic properties. Ab initio calculations provide further insight into the electronic effect of the coordination with the NHC injecting electron density into the metal nanocluster thus lowering the barrier for bromobenzene activation. By this NHC modification, the catalyst could be successfully applied in the Buchwald–Hartwig amination of aryl chlorides, bromides, and iodides. Various heterogeneity tests could additionally show that the reaction proceeds via a heterogeneous active species.