ConspectusArtificial photosynthetic constructs can in principle operate more efficiently than natural photosynthesis because they can be rationally designed to optimize solar energy conversion for meeting human demands rather than the multiple needs of an organism competing for growth and reproduction in a complex ecosystem. The artificial photosynthetic constructs described in this Account consist primarily of covalently linked synthetic chromophores, electron donors and acceptors, and proton donors and acceptors that carry out the light absorption, electron transfer, and proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) processes characteristic of photosynthetic cells.PCET is the movement of an electron from one site to another accompanied by proton transfer. PCET and the transport of protons over tens of angstroms are important in all living cells because they are a fundamental link between redox processes and the establishment of transmembrane gradients of proton electrochemical potential, known as proton-motive force (PMF), which is the unifying concept in bioenergetics.We have chosen a benzimidazole phenol (BIP) system as a platform for the study of PCET because with appropriate substitutions it is possible to design assemblies in which one or multiple proton transfers can accompany oxidation of the phenol. In BIP, oxidation of the phenol increases its acidity by more than ten pKa units; thus, electrochemical oxidation of the phenol is associated with a proton transfer to the imidazole. This is an example of a PCET process involving transfer of one electron and one proton, known as electron-proton transfer (EPT). When the benzimidazole moiety of BIP is substituted at the 4-position with good proton acceptor groups such as aliphatic amines, experimental and theoretical results indicate that two proton transfers occur upon one-electron oxidation of the phenol. This phenomenon is described as a one-electron-two-proton transfer (E2PT) process and results in translocation of protons over ∼7 Å via a Grotthuss-type mechanism, where the protons traverse a network of internally H-bonded sites.In the case of the E2TP process involving BIP analogues with amino group substituents, the thermodynamic price paid in redox potential to move a proton to the final proton acceptor is ∼300 mV. In this example, the decrease in redox potential limits the oxidizing power of the resulting phenoxyl radical. Thus, unlike the biological counterpart, the artificial construct is thermodynamically incapable of effectively advancing the redox state of a water oxidation catalyst. The design of systems where multiple proton transfer events are coupled to an oxidation reaction while a relatively high redox potential is maintained remains an outstanding challenge.The ability to control proton transfer and activity at defined distances and times is key to achieving proton management in the vicinity of catalysts operating at low overpotential in myriad biochemically important processes. Artificial photosynthetic constructs with well-defined structures, such as the ones described in this Account, can provide the means for discovering design principles upon which efficient redox catalysts for electrolysis and fuel cells can be based.
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