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From Molecular Catalysts to Hybrid Electrodes: A Theoretical Guide

Time: Thu 2022-10-20 10.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Theoretical Chemistry and Biology

Doctoral student: de Gracia Triviño Juan Angel , Teoretisk kemi och biologi

Opponent: Associate Professor Aleksandra Vojvodic, University of Pennsylvania

Supervisor: Professor Mårten S. G. Ahlquist, Teoretisk kemi och biologi

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QC 2022-09-16


The industrial revolution thrived our society to great technological advancement and a shift from an agrarian to an industrial society. Besides this fact, the side effect has been the development of a society highly dependent on energy, and the main sources of energy are based on non-renewable fossil fuels. This issue calls for the quest for new renewable energy sources that can address the energy dependency minimizing its side effects of it. In this quest, hydrogen is a promising source due to its high energy capacity and clean sub-products.

The first chapter of this thesis will revise more in deep this environmental issues and what is needed to implement sustainable hydrogen production by water splitting. As well, as how the water source is extremely relevant, and solutions for using seawater are required to scale up hydrogen production. Also, an introduction to molecular catalysts for water oxidation based on Ru will be exposed, including a historical perspective and the state of the art at this day. The first chapter will finish with the strategies explored in this thesis to overcome the limitations of molecular catalysts in water splitting devices i.e, stability and current density.

This work uses an ample set of computational tools to explore the reactivity and supramolecular properties of molecular catalysts. The second chapter will start with the treatment of molecules as electronic systems utilizing molecular quantum mechanics. Wave function formalism and density functional formalism of molecular quantum mechanics will be exposed and explained to the extent that is needed to ground the results of this thesis. The next section will introduce the treatment of molecules as atomic systems employing molecular mechanics and how we derive relevant supramolecular effects such as hydrophobicity, means of attachment to electrode surfaces, solvent, and electric field effects. Finally, this chapter will revise the Empirical Valence Bond approach to study the reactivity dependence on the molecular environment.

The last chapter will go over the results of this thesis that correspond to the annexed papers at the end of this work. Starting from the characterization of the oxide relay mechanism in the highly efficient catalyst Ru(tda) where a novel function for the non-coordinating carboxylate ligand is proposed. To increase the stability of the Ru(tda) an attachment to carbon surfaces has been proposed and proved to increase significantly the stability. A study of the oxide relay mechanism at the surface revealed that the water-excluded environment of the active site in the reactive intermediate does not affect the key steps of this mechanism, in agreement with the experimental results reported. Next, the Ru(bda) has been shown to effectively catalyze the formation of molecular nitrogen from ammonia in an apolar solvent. The Ru(bda) has been well studied for water oxidation due to its high efficiency and the key step has been identified as the dimerization of two complexes driven by the aqueous solvent. The study of the dimerization process in acetonitrile has revealed the crucial role of solvent in supramolecular effects since acetonitrile promotes complex-counterion pairing aiding the dimerization of the Ru(bda) and. To increase the current density is needed a strategy to increase the catalyst density at the surface. Oligomerization of the Ru(tda) has shown to be an effective strategy to increase the current density of the hybrid electroanode to levels that are comparable to commercial electrolyzers. The exploration of the ways of attachment to the carbon surface revealed high dependency on the metal center oxidation state, the solvent, and the electric field. Also, the reactivity of the oligomer has been explored using the Empirical Valence Bond approach, revealing that the O-O bond formation remains unaltered in the oligomer and the reactivity remains unaltered in this complex environment, in agreement with experimental results. Finally, the substitution of the carboxylates in the Ru(tda) by phosphonates (Ru(tPaO)) has been proved to double the efficiency of the molecular catalyst at neutral pH. Due to the similarities between carboxylates and phosphonates the oxide relay mechanism has been tested in the Ru(tPaO), revealing that the origin of the extreme reactivity comes from low barriers in all the steps. The O-O bond formation involves an intramolecular radical coupling lowering the activation barrier to 2.1 kcal/mol. This radical coupling revealed a variation of the oxide relay mechanism called the radical oxide relay mechanism.