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Computational Study of an Iron(II) Polypyridine Electrocatalyst for CO2 Reduction: Key Roles for Intramolecular Interactions in CO2 Binding and Proton Transfer

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posted on 27.05.2020, 18:42 by Matthias Loipersberger, David Z. Zee, Julien A. Panetier, Christopher J. Chang, Jeffrey R. Long, Martin Head-Gordon
A solar-driven conversion of CO2 into fuels by artificial photosynthesis would not only mitigate the greenhouse effect but also provide an alternative to obtain fuels in a renewable fashion. To this end, the new iron polypyridine catalyst [Fe­(bpyNHEtPY2Me)­L2]2+ (L = H2O, CH3CN) was recently developed for the electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO. In this study, we performed density functional theory (DFT) electronic structure calculations to shed light on a possible pathway for CO2 reduction and the origin of the selectivity between CO2 reduction versus the hydrogen evolution reaction. The metal center remains Lewis acidic throughout the reduction process due to ligand loss and mainly ligand-based reduction stabilized by antiferromagnetic coupling to a high-spin Fe­(II) center. This results in a high barrier for hydride formation but a facile addition and activation of CO2 via an η2 coordination and stabilizing hydrogen bonding by the amine group. The second unoccupied equatorial coordination site opens up the possibility for an intramolecular protonation with a coordinated water ligand. This facilitates protonation because not only CO2 but also the proton source H2O is activated and properly aligned for a proton transfer due to the Fe–OH2 bond; consequently, both protonation steps are facile. The moderate ligand field allows a rapid ligand exchange for a second intramolecular protonation step and facilitates an exergonic CO release. The lower selectivity of the related [Fe­(bpyOHPY2Me)­L2]2+ complex can be related to its more acidic second coordination sphere, which enables an intramolecular proton transfer that is kinetically competitive with CO2 addition.