Electrocatalytic Ammonia Oxidation by a Low Coordinate Copper Complex



Molecular catalysts for ammonia oxidation to dinitrogen represent enabling components to utilize ammonia as a fuel and/or source of hydrogen. Ammonia oxidation requires not only the breaking of multiple strong N-H bonds, but also controlled N-N bond formation. We report a novel β-diketiminato copper complex [iPr2NNF6]Cu-NH3 ([Cu(I)]-NH3 (2)) as a robust electrocatalyst for NH3 oxidation in acetonitrile under homogeneous conditions. Complex 2 operates at a moderate overpotential (700 mV) with a TOFmax = 940 h-1 as determined from CV data in 1.3 M NH3 MeCN solvent. Prolonged (>5 h) controlled potential electrolysis (CPE) reveals the stability and robustness of the catalyst under electrocatalytic conditions. Detailed mechanistic investigations indicate that electrochemical oxidation of [Cu(I)]-NH3 forms {[Cu(II)]-NH3}+ (4) which undergoes deprotonation by excess NH3 to form reactive copper(II)-amide [Cu(II)]-NH2 (6) unstable towards N-N bond formation to give the dinuclear hydrazine complex [Cu(I)]2(mu-N2H4). Electrochemical studies reveal that the bisammine complex [Cu(I)](NH3)2 (7) forms at high ammonia concentration as part of the {[Cu(II)](NH3)2}+/[Cu(I)](NH3)2 redox couple that is electrocatalytically inactive. DFT analysis reveals a much higher thermodynamic barrier for deprotonation of {[Cu(II)](NH3)2}+ (8) by NH3 to give the four-coordinate copper(II) amide [Cu(II)](NH2)(NH3) (9) (dG = 31.7 kcal/mol) as compared to deprotonation of the three coordinate {[Cu(II)]-NH3}+ by NH3 to provide the reactive three coordinate parent amide [Cu(II)]-NH2 (dG = 18.1 kcal/mol) susceptible to N-N coupling to form [Cu(I)]2(mu-N2H4) (dG = -11.8 kcal/mol).


Thumbnail image of MS-Cu-ammonia-Warren.pdf

Supplementary material

Thumbnail image of SI-Cu-ammonia-Warren.pdf
Supporting Information
Supporting Information