Pendant Hydrogen-Bond Donors in Cobalt Catalysts Independently Enhance CO<sub>2</sub> Reduction


The bioinspired incorporation of pendant proton donors into transition metal catalysts is a promising strategy for converting environmentally deleterious CO<sub>2</sub> to higher energy products. However, the mechanism of proton transfer in these systems is poorly understood. Herein, we present a series of cobalt complexes with varying pendant secondary and tertiary amines in the ligand framework with the aim of disentangling the roles of the first and second coordination spheres in CO<sub>2</sub> reduction catalysis. Electrochemical and kinetic studies indicate that the rate of catalysis shows a first-order dependence on acid, CO<sub>2</sub>, and the number of pendant secondary amines, respectively. Density functional theory studies explain the experimentally observed trends and indicate that pendant secondary amines do not directly transfer protons to CO<sub>2</sub>, but instead bind acid molecules from solution. Taken together, these results suggest a mechanism in which noncooperative pendant amines facilitate a hydrogen-bonding network that enables direct proton transfer from acid to the activated CO<sub>2</sub> substrate

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