Hydrogenation and Dehydrogenation Iron Pincer Catalysts Capable of Metal-Ligand Cooperation by Aromatization/Dearomatization

Thomas Zell, David Milstein

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341 Citations (Scopus)


Conspectus The substitution of expensive and potentially toxic noble-metal catalysts by cheap, abundant, environmentally benign, and less toxic metals is highly desirable and in line with green chemistry guidelines. We have recently discovered a new type of metal-ligand cooperation, which is based on the reversible dearomatization/aromatization of different heteroaromatic ligand cores caused by deprotonation/protonation of the ligand. More specifically, we have studied complexes of various transition metals (Ru, Fe, Co, Rh, Ir, Ni, Pd, Pt, and Re) bearing pyridine- and bipyridine-based PNP and PNN pincer ligands, which have slightly acidic methylene protons. In addition, we have discovered long-range metal-ligand cooperation in acridine-based pincer ligands, where the cooperation takes place at the electrophilic C-9 position of the acridine moiety leading to dearomatization of its middle ring. This type of metal-ligand cooperation was used for the activation of chemical bonds, including H-H, C-H (sp2 and sp3), O-H, N-H, and B-H bonds. This unusual reactivity likely takes place in various catalytic hydrogenation, dehydrogenation, and related reactions.In this Account, we summarize our studies on novel bifunctional iron PNP and PNN pincer complexes, which were designed on the basis of their ruthenium congeners. Iron PNP pincer complexes serve as efficient (pre)catalysts for hydrogenation and dehydrogenation reactions under remarkably mild conditions. Their catalytic applications include atom-efficient and industrially important hydrogenation reactions of ketones, aldehydes, and esters to the corresponding alcohols. Moreover, they catalyze the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to sodium formate in the presence of sodium hydroxide, the selective decomposition of formic acid to carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and the E-selective semihydrogenation of alkynes to give E-alkenes. These catalysts feature, compared to other iron-based catalysts, very high catalytic activities which in some cases can even exceed those of state-of-the-art noble-metal catalysts. For the iron PNP systems, we describe the synthesis of the pyridine- and acridine-based PNP iron complexes and their performances and limitations in catalytic reactions, and we present studies on their reactivity with relevance to their catalytic mechanisms. In the case of the bipyridine-based PNN system, we summarize the synthesis of new complexes and describe studies on the noninnocence of the methylene position, which can be reversibly deprotonated, as well as on the noninnocence of the bipyridine unit. Overall, this Account underlines that the combination of cheap and abundant iron with ligands that are capable of metal-ligand cooperation can result in the development of novel, versatile, and efficient catalysts for atom-efficient catalytic reactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1979-1994
Number of pages16
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 21 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)

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