Roles of the Lewis Acid and Base in the Chemical Reduction of CO2 Catalyzed by Frustrated Lewis Pairs

We employ quantum chemical calculations to discover how frustrated Lewis pairs (FLP) catalyze the reduction of CO2 by ammonia borane (AB); specifically, we examine how the Lewis acid (LA) and Lewis base (LB) of an FLP activate CO2 for reduction. We find that the LA (trichloroaluminum, AlCl3) alone catalyzes hydride transfer (HT) to CO2 while the LB (trimesitylenephosphine, PMes3) actually hinders HT; inclusion of the LB increases the HT barrier by ∼8 kcal/mol relative to the reaction catalyzed by LAs only. The LB hinders HT by donating its lone pair to the LUMO of CO2, increasing the electron density on the C atom and thus lowering its hydride affinity. Although the LB hinders HT, it nonetheless plays a crucial role by stabilizing the active FLP·CO2 complex relative to the LA dimer, free CO2, and free LB. This greatly increases the concentration of the reactive complex in the form FLP·CO2 and thus increases the rate of reaction. We expect that the principles we describe will aid in understanding other catalytic CO2 reductions.