Archive for the ‘Subject Areas’ Category

Synthesizing Polymers Using CO2

Ring-opening polymerizations produce commercial polymeric materials including epoxy resins, but they usually liberate small molecules such as the greenhouse gas, CO2. In the context of climate change, it is urgent to reduce CO2 emissions. Recently, a group of UK researchers led by Prof. Charlotte K. Williams at the University of Oxford developed a step-growth polymerization method that self-consumed CO2. The work has been published in a recent issue of Chemical Communications.

The synthesis involved two catalytic cycles (Figure 1). The first cycle polymerized L-lactide-O-carboxyanhydride into poly(L-lactide acid) (PLLA) via a ring-opening polymerization and released one CO2 molecule per polymer repeat unit. In the second cycle, epoxide molecules (cyclohexeneoxide) combined with the CO2 generated in the first step and grew into poly(cyclohexene carbonate) (PCHC) from the terminal ends of the PLLA chains. A di-zinc-alkoxide compound catalyzed both cycles and coupled the two processes together. The product is PLLA-b-PCHC block copolymers, which are composed of PLLA and PCHC covalently tethered together.

Figure 1. The two catalytic cycles are joined by a zinc-based catalyst, [LZn2(OAc)2]. The CO2 gas produced in the first step serves as a reactant in the second step. OCA: O-carboxyanhydride; ROP: ring-opening polymerization; CHO: cyclohexeneoxide; ROCOP: ring-opening copolymerization.

The two reactions resulted in block copolymers with few byproducts. In-situ 1H NMR revealed that the reactants in the first step (LLAOCA) were rapidly consumed during the first four hours (Step I, Figure 2a), and the concentration of PLLA increased notably. The concentration of PCHC only markedly increased after the concentration of PLLA saturated (Step II, Figure 2a). The byproduct of the second step, trans-cyclohexene carbonate, exhibited consistently low concentrations. The pronounced single peak in each size-exclusion chromatogram of the corresponding product confirmed the presence of block copolymers, instead of polymer mixtures (Figure 2b). Although the authors did not fully elucidate the origin of the excellent selectivity towards the block copolymer, they speculated that the change in CO2 partial pressure played a role. Significantly, nearly all CO2 molecules were consumed in the second step, with 91% incorporated into the block copolymer, and 9% converted to the byproduct.

Figure 2. (a) The evolution of the concentrations of PLLA, PCHC, and trans-CHC (the byproduct of the second step) with reaction time. (b) Size-exclusion chromatograms of the products at different reaction times. Mn: number-average molecular weight; Đ: polydispersity.

The authors are investigating the detailed polymerization mechanism, as well as identifying new catalysts to expand the polymerization scheme to other polymers.

 

To find out more, please read:

Waste Not, Want Not: CO2 (Re)cycling into Block Copolymers

Sumesh K. Raman, Robert Raja, Polly L. Arnold, Matthew G. Davidson, and Charlotte K. Williams

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 7315-7318

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Guiding Light with Molecular Crystals

We’re all used to communications and computing happening at high, and seemingly ever-increasing speeds. Continuing on this trajectory requires the development of materials capable of acting as micro/nanoscale waveguides that don’t experience interference effects from strong external electromagnetic fields. Molecular crystals represent an exciting but relatively under-explored materials class due to their inherently limited emission and absorption properties. However, an international group of researchers recently combined two different crystalline materials with complementary optical properties in a filled-hollow crystal architecture, involving no binding materials or polymer matrices.

Figure 1. Spectra and structure of DCA (left) and PDI (right).

The group used 9,10-dicyanoanthracine (DCA) as the hollow outer crystal, with a perylene diimide derivative (PDI) as the interior compound (Figure 1). When combined, these two compounds exhibit fluorescence that covers the visible and near-IR portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The researchers grew hollow crystals of DCA with diameters ranging from 50-400 μm in diameter with pores of 10-200 μm and filled them with 1-50 μm PDI crystal fibrils manually by hand(!) (Figure 2) (I honestly can’t imagine how many crystals ended up broken during that experimental learning curve!). The assembled structure for study had a single hollow DCA crystal filled with 18 individual PDI fibrils to create the waveguide.

Figure 2. Schematic of hollow crystal architecture (top) with demonstration of construction (bottom).

When the researchers excited the full structure with a 365 nm continuous wavelength LED, both crystal components emitted light that was guided down to the opposite end. The specific makeup of the spectrum depends on the point of illumination; only the excited compounds emit. This supports the active waveguiding capabilities of the materials. The emissive properties can also be controlled by changing the excitation wavelengths to exclude the absorbance of one of the molecular crystals. PDI can be selectively excited using light above 550 nm and both PDI and DCA act simply as passive waveguides for light in the infrared region of the spectrum, of particular importance for wireless communication. This study represents an exciting next step for organic molecular materials as optical waveguides with a new architecture for devices.

To find out more please read:

A filled organic crystal as a hybrid large-bandwidth optical waveguide

Luca Catalano, Patrick Commins, Stefan Schramm, Durga Prasad Karothu, Rachid Rezgui, Kawther Hadef and Panče Naumov

Chem. Commun, 2019, 55, 4921-4924.

About the blogger:

Beth Mundy is a PhD candidate in chemistry in the Cossairt lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. Her research focuses on developing new and better ways to synthesize nanomaterials for energy applications. She is often spotted knitting in seminars or with her nose in a good book. You can find her on Twitter at @BethMundySci.

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ChemComm: Our Vision

Vision statement

“ChemComm is the Royal Society of Chemistry’s most cited journal, and has a long history of publishing exciting new findings of exceptional significance, across the breadth of chemistry.

With its Communication format, we recognise the importance of rapid disclosure of your work, and we are proud that our times to publication remain among the fastest in the field.

Our vision for ChemComm is to maintain our longstanding tradition of quality, trust and fairness, and we encourage you to join our community by publishing your most exciting research with us.”

Véronique Gouverneur, Editorial Board Chair

Scope

ChemComm is committed to publishing findings on new avenues of research, drawn from all major areas of chemical research, from across the world. Main research areas include (but are not limited to):

  • Analytical chemistry
  • Biomaterials chemistry
  • Bioorganic/medicinal chemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Chemical Biology
  • Coordination Chemistry
  • Crystal Engineering
  • Energy
  • Sustainable chemistry
  • Green chemistry
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Inorganic materials
  • Main group chemistry
  • Nanoscience
  • Organic chemistry
  • Organic materials
  • Organometallics
  • Physical chemistry
  • Supramolecular chemistry
  • Synthetic methodology
  • Theoretical and computational chemistry

Learn more about ChemComm online! Submit your latest high impact research here!

Keep up-to-date with our latest journal news on Twitter @ChemCommun or via our blog!

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Targeting the Powerhouse of the Cell to Fight Cancer

Everyone knows that cancer as a disease is awful, but the side effects of currently utilized chemotherapies have their own horrors. Research into natural products as therapies have found some promising compounds, but they face barriers to practical use in patients. One particular molecule, artesunate (ART), recently showed high potential for anticancer activity when in the presence of iron. Unfortunately, ART has major problems that limit its current applicability, including low solubility in water and high instability in biologically relevant conditions.

One approach to get around these issues is to encapsulate the drug (pun intended) in a nanoparticle-based carrier. A carrier with a hydrophobic interior and hydrophilic exterior can bring higher concentrations of drugs with low solubility into a cell and protect them from deleterious conditions in the body. An additional benefit is the relative ease of incorporating targeting ligands into the particles during synthesis. This allows the drugs to only interact with specific cells or, in this specific case, the mitochondria within cells.

Figure 1. Schematic of the nanoparticle synthesis process complete with targeting ligand molecules. The anticancer agent is activated in the presence of iron.

Researchers in China have prepared approximately 200 nm nanoparticle carriers for ART (Figure 1) using triphenyl phosphonium (TPP) as a mitochondrial targeting ligand. These nanoparticles remained stable in biologically relevant conditions for a week, sufficient for in-vitro studies. The studies showed significant decreases in cancer cell growth when the nanoparticles were used compared to the ART alone. The nanoparticles with TPP on the surface showed the highest efficacy, particularly when coupled with iron treatment to activate the ART.

Figure 2. Images of cells exposed to nanoparticles with (bottom) and without (top) a targeting ligand filled with different fluorescent dyes. The increased brightness corresponds to higher uptake of the nanoparticles by the cells.

To further investigate the cell uptake pathway of the nanoparticles, the researchers added fluorescent dye molecules to the inside of the particles. Once the cells took up and ruptured the nanoparticles, the dyes were released and became visible to the researchers (Figure 2). The fluorescence was twice as great in cells exposed to the nanoparticles treated with the TPP targeting ligand, showing its value for cell uptake. The researchers also used fluorescent dyes that react with reactive oxygen species (ROSs), as their generation is how ART kills cancer cells. The in-vitro studies showed an over three-fold increase in fluorescence from reactions with ROSs which, combined with data showing higher rates of cell death, supports the increased activity of ART when combined with this nanoparticle architecture.

To find out more please read:

A mitochondria targeting artesunate prodrug-loaded nanoparticle exerting anticancer activity via iron-mediated generation of the reactive oxygen species

Zhigang Chen, Xiaoxu Kang, Yixin Wu, Haihua Xiao, Xuzi Cai, Shihou Seng, Xuefeng Wang and Shiguo Chen

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 4781 – 4784.

About the blogger:

 

Beth Mundy is a PhD candidate in chemistry in the Cossairt lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. Her research focuses on developing new and better ways to synthesize nanomaterials for energy applications. She is often spotted knitting in seminars or with her nose in a good book. You can find her on Twitter at @BethMundySci.

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1+1>2: Bridging Constituents in Hetero-Structured Hydrogen Evolution Photocatalysts

Solar-driven water reduction is a sustainable method to acquire hydrogen fuel. An indispensable component of this reaction is the photocatalyst which drives spontaneous hydrogen gas evolution from water when illuminated. Hetero-structured materials consisting of two or more catalysts stand out as promising hydrogen evolution catalysts, due to the combined advantages of their constituents (e.g. enhanced light-absorption capability). Unfortunately, the weak adhesion between different components is the Achilles heel of conventional hetero-structured photocatalysts. It impedes electron transport from the photocatalysts to the nearby water molecules, hindering the catalytic activity.

A research group led by Xiao Xiao and Jian-Ping Zou from Nanchang Hangkong University of China has demonstrated a solution to the aforementioned challenge. They firmly connected two photocatalysts – Pt-loaded carbon nitride (CN) and the covalent organic framework CTF-1 – via amide bonds, resulting in a new type of hetero-structured photocatalyst, CN/CTF-1, which exhibited a hydrogen evolution rate approximately 3 times faster than those of conventional hetero-structured photocatalysts made of weakly bound CN and CTF-1.

The researchers adopted a two-step method to synthesize CN/CTF-1. They first reacted CTF-1 sheets with 4-aminobenzoic acid to graft carboxylic groups onto the surfaces of the CTF-1 sheets. A subsequent amide condensation between the amine groups of the CN and the carboxyl groups on the CTF-1 bridged the two components. The amide groups serve as electron transport pathways and facilitate the movement of photo-excited electrons from CTF-1 to CN (Figure 1a) which liberates hydrogen gas.

The covalent amide “bridges” gave CN/CTF-1 a fast hydrogen production rate. Quantitatively, when irradiated with a 300 W Xe lamp at 160 mW/cm2, CN/CTF-1 produced ~4 mmol H2 per gram of CN/CTF-1 after 4 h (0.85 mmol H2 h-1 gcatalyst-1), whereas under identical conditions, weakly adhered CN and CTF-1 sheets as well as a physical mixture of CN and CTF-1 all achieved H2 evolution rates of ~1 mmol H2 per gram of photocatalyst (0.30 mmol H2 h-1 gcatalyst-1) (Figure 1b).

Figure 1. (a) (Pt-loaded) CN sheets are covalently bound to CTF-1 sheets via amide bonds. These covalent bonds serve as electron transport “bridges” that facilitate the diffusion of photo-excited electrons from CTF-1 to CN. (b) H2 evolution rates of four photocatalysts: 1 – covalently bound CN/CTF-1; 2 and 3 –  weakly adhered CN and CTF-1; 4 – a physical mixture of CN and CTF-1.

The covalent bonding strategy is applicable to other coupling reactions such as the Friedel-Crafts reaction. This general method could create a new paradigm for designing and synthesizing high-performance hetero-structured photocatalysts.

 

To find out more please read:

A General Strategy via Chemically Covalent Combination for Constructing Heterostructured Catalysts with Enhanced Photocatalytic Hydrogen Evolution

Gang Zhou, Ling-Ling Zheng, Dengke Wang, Qiu-Ju Xing, Fei Li, Peng Ye, Xiao Xiao, Yan Li, and Jian-Ping Zou

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 4150-4153

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Using Carbon to Make a Better Solar Cell

Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but solar cells are incredibly complex devices with more components than just the light absorber.

While the focus on the active layer by chemists looking to develop new materials is understandable, in order to truly create next-generation solar cells the other components of the architecture must be improved.  Creating the crack-resistant or resilient layers necessary for functional flexible solar cells is a major challenge currently being addressed. These new materials and approaches also need to work within the general framework of fabrication techniques used for the other layers – ideally at low temperature and solution processible.

An often-neglected piece of the puzzle is the electrode. Electrodes are traditionally composed of a thin metal layer, which is often vapor deposited at high temperatures and low pressures. This class of electrodes is expensive, susceptible to degradation, and can damage the critical hole transport or active layers. One emerging alternative is carbon-based electrodes, applied as pastes. These low-cost, highly stable, and hydrophobic materials are attractive given their compatibility with emerging photovoltaic technologies, particularly perovskites. Their broad application has been limited by the necessity of toxic solvents to create the pastes, but researchers in China have developed a low-temperature, highly conductive carbon paste that can be screen printed onto perovskite solar cells without using toxic solvents.

Fabrication schematic and cross sectional SEM for a perovskite solar cell with a carbon electrode

Figure 1. (a) Fabrication schematic for perovskite solar cells with carbon electrodes and hole transport layers. (b) Cross sectional SEM image of a device.

Not only are the solvents more environmentally friendly compared to those previously used, they also increase the mechanical strength of the final film and, under fabrication conditions, do not damage the perovskite active layer or organic hole transport layer. While the hole transport layer isn’t strictly necessary to create a working device, it has been shown to increase the champion efficiency from 11.7% to 14.55%. This is likely due to poor contact between the perovskite and carbon electrode, which the thin hole transport layer (PEDOT:PSS) helps remedy.

Carbon-based electrode undergoing a bending test and sheet resistivity data

Figure 2. (a) A sample undergoing a bending test. (b) The electrode sheet resistance before and after 100 bends.

The most exciting aspect of these electrodes is their resilience when subjected to a bending test. After 100 bends, the researchers saw no visible film damage or increase in the sheet resistance when compared to the initial sample. Actual flexible solar cells fabricated and studied did show a decrease in performance after 1,000 bends, but this was attributed to known robustness issues in the base ITO layer. This work with carbon-based electrode materials could lead to simpler manufacturing for fabricating perovskite solar cells at a commercial level.

 

To find out more please read:

A low-temperature carbon electrode with good perovskite compatibility and high flexibility in carbon based perovskite solar cells

Shiyu Wang, Pei Jiang, Wenjian Shen, Anyi Mei, Sixing Xiong, Xueshi Jiang, Yaoguang Rong, Yiwen Tang, Yue Hu & Hongwei Han

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 2765-2768

This article is also part of the Chemical CommunicationsPerovskites‘ themed collection.

About the blogger:

 

Beth Mundy is a PhD candidate in chemistry in the Cossairt lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. Her research focuses on developing new and better ways to synthesize nanomaterials for energy applications. She is often spotted knitting in seminars or with her nose in a good book. You can find her on Twitter at @BethMundySci.

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A Battery Cathode with a Bee Pupa-Filled Honeycomb Structure

Increasing the volumetric energy densities of batteries is essential for improving the durability of portable electronics and the operating ranges of electric vehicles. One way to improve energy density is to enlarge the mass fraction of active materials in battery electrodes; however, the degree of enhancement remains limited. This limitation results from the densification of the electrodes when the mass fraction increases, making electron transport and ion diffusion throughout the electrodes sluggish. These drawbacks lower the utilization efficiency of the overall electrode materials.

A team of scientists from China and the United States has recently addressed the aforementioned challenges. Specifically, they synthesized a 3D cathode of carbon-coated Li2MnSiO4 (Li2MnSiO4/C) with a structure mimicking a honeycomb filled with bee pupas (Fig. 1). This lithium-ion battery cathode possesses a high mass fraction of 90% (of overall electrode mass) as well as a volumetric energy density as high as 2443 Wh/dm3.

The uniquely structured electrodes were prepared through a hard-template method (Fig. 1). Using polystyrene particles, silica surface coating, and Li2MnSiO4 precursor infiltration, the authors synthesized a carbon-coated Li2MnSiO4 honeycomb scaffold with each cavity filled with a carbon-coated Li2MnSiO4 particle. This architecture differed from previously reported 3D structures, which typically had a large portion of voids, and enabled an ultrahigh active-material mass loading of 90 wt.%. Additionally, the gaps between the scaffold and the particles functioned as ion-diffusion channels, and the carbon coatings served as electron-transport expressways. These characteristics effectively addressed the problem of sluggish ion diffusion and electron transport.

Figure 1. The synthesis procedures of the BPFH-shaped Li2MnSiO4/C electrode. The green particles and yellow scaffold represent polystyrene spheres and the silica coating, respectively.

Due to the facilitated electron transport and ion diffusion, the Li2MnSiO4/C electrode with a bee pupa-filled honeycomb (BPFH) structure (Fig. 2a) exhibited an outstanding charge-storage performance. Specifically, it delivered a high volumetric capacity of 643 mAh/cm3 at a current density of 0.1 C, corresponding to a volumetric density of 2443 Wh/dm3. This volumetric capacity was approximately two times higher than that of a Li2MnSiO4/C honeycomb lattice without any Li2MnSiO4 particles (Fig. 2b). After 100 consecutive charge-discharge cycles, the BPFH-shaped Li2MnSiO4/C electrode retained a volumetric capacity of 328 mAh/cm3 (Fig. 2c).

Figure 2. (a and b) Scanning electron microscopy images of (a) the BPFH-shaped Li2MnSiO4/C electrode and (b) the Li2MnSiO4/C scaffold. (c) The capacities and the Coulombic efficiencies of the two electrodes during 100 charge-discharge cycles.

The demonstrated BPFH architecture could be extended to other materials for the synthesis of battery electrodes with both high mass fractions of active materials and outstanding volumetric energy densities.

 

To find out more please read:

A Bee Pupa-Infilled Honeycomb Structure-Inspired Li2MnSiO4 Cathode for High Volumetric Energy Density Secondary Batteries

Jinyun Liu, Xirong Lin, Huigang Zhang, Zihan Shen, Qianqian Lu, Junjie Niu, Jinjin Li and Paul V. Braun

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 3582-3585

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Saving Organic Electrodes in Lithium-Ion Batteries

Organic compounds with conjugated electron structures are emerging as promising Li-ion battery cathodes due to their high capacity and environmental benignity. To make these cathodes practically feasible, organic electrodes are typically incorporated with metal ions to boost their energy densities. The addition of metal ions, however, usually jeopardizes the structural integrity of the electrodes and shortens battery lifetime.

Recently, three groups of Chinese researchers demonstrated that increasing the electrolyte concentration could effectively prolong the lifespan of metal-incorporated organic cathodes. The researchers studied cuprous tetracyano-quinodimethane (CuTCNQ), a Cu2+-containing organic Li-ion battery cathode, and observed its significantly improved cycling stability in a 7 M LiClO4 electrolyte compared to a 1 M electrolyte. This work was published recently in ChemComm.

CuTCNQ in a typical diluted electrolyte of 1 M LiClO4 exhibited unsatisfactory stability. Its first-cycle charging capacity reached ~180 mAh/g, but it dropped appreciably to 23 mAh/g after the first discharging process (Figure 1a). Concurrently, the electrolyte turned from clear to yellow (Figure 1b), due to the dissolution of TCNQ. These observations unequivocally showed the rapid disintegration of CuTCNQ in diluted electrolytes.

Figure 1. (a) The first-cycle charge-discharge profile of CuTCNQ in a liquid electrolyte containing ethylene carbonate (EC), propylene carbonate (PC) and 1 M LiClO4 (1 M LiClO4-EC/PC). (b) Photographs showing the electrolyte color before and after the first charge-discharge cycle.

CuTCNQ was found to be more stable in electrolytes with concentrations higher than 1 M. When the LiClO4 concentration increased to 3 M, 5 M and 7 M, the specific capacities of CuTCNQ retained after 50 consecutive charge-discharge cycles were ~25 mAh/g, ~70 mAh/g, and ~110 mAh/g, respectively (Figure 2a). All of these capacities were higher than that of CuTCNQ in 1 M LiClO4 after the same cycle number (<10 mAh/g). Additionally, the electrolytes experienced nearly no color change, suggesting little TCNQ was dissolved (Figure 2b).

The elevated stability of CuTCNQ correlates to the formation of Li+-ClO4 ion pairs in concentrated electrolytes (Figure 2c). With increasing LiClO4 concentration, Li+ and ClO4 tend to form ion pairs that coordinate with solvent molecules. Solvent-coordination reduces the number of free solvent molecules that can dissolve TCNQ, thus minimizing the dissolution of TCNQ.

Figure 2. (a) The cycling stability performances of CuTCNQ with electrolytes with different LiClO4 concentrations. (b) Photographs showing the electrolyte color before and after 50 charge-discharge cycles at different LiClO4 concentrations. (c) Li+ and ClO4- form solvent-coordinated ion pairs in super-concentrated electrolytes (e.g., 7 M).

This work provides a facile approach to mitigate the capacity fading of CuTCNQ. The strategy may be extended to stabilize other metal-incorporated organic cathodes in Li-ion batteries.

To find out more please read:

Sustainable Cycling Enabled by A High-Concentration Electrolyte for Lithium-Organic Batteries

Ying Huang, Chun Fang, Wang Zhang, Qingju Liu and Yunhui Huang

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 608-611

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Shrinking the Size of Hydrogen Evolution Catalysts by Carbon Coating

Hydrogen gas is a zero-emission energy resource promising to replace diminishing fossil fuels. The electrolysis of water is a sustainable way to acquire hydrogen gas, but this non-spontaneous process demands electricity to proceed. Therefore, hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) catalysts are used to reduce the energy cost or overpotential of the electrolysis.

Researchers are pursuing ultrafine nanoparticles as HER catalysts due to their high catalytic activity. For example, the HER catalytic activities of Ru nanoparticles are reportedly 100-200% higher than those of bulk Ru catalysts. Unfortunately, the preparation of well-dispersed nanoparticles is challenging because nanoparticles are prone to aggregate together.

Recently in ChemComm, Fuqiang Chu, Yong Qin and coworkers from Changzhou University, China addressed the challenge. They utilized a Ru-based coordination complex and cyanuric acid as the reactants, and synthesized high-performance HER catalysts composed of ~2 nm Ru nanoparticles uniformly dispersed on graphene sheets. During the thermal annealing step in the synthesis, the ligands of the complex and the cyanuric acid both decompose to nitrogen-doped carbon shells covering the as-formed Ru nanoparticles. These shells serve as spacers that prevent particle aggregation (Figure 1).

Figure 1. An illustration of the synthesis of carbon-coated Ru ultrafine nanoparticles on graphene sheets. Tris(2,2′-bipyrindine) ruthenium dichloride is the precursor of the Ru nanoparticles.

In both the acidic and the alkaline electrolytes, the 2 nm Ru particles (RuNC-2) display lower overpotentials and higher current densities than the 5 nm Ru particles (Figure 2) without the carbon coating (RuNC-5). Remarkably, the 2 nm particles showed comparable performance to the benchmark Pt catalyst in the acidic electrolyte (the red and black curves in Figure 2a).

Figure 2. Linear sweep voltammograms of ~3 nm Pt nanoparticles (PtNC), 2 nm Ru nanoparticles (RuNC-2) and 5 nm Ru nanoparticles (RuNC-5) in (a) 0.5 M H2SO4 and (b) 1 M KOH aqueous solutions.

The concept of the in-situ generation of protective coatings could inspire the synthesis of other ultra-small nanoparticles to potentially push the HER catalytic performance to new heights.

 

To find out more please read:

An Ultrafine Ruthenium Nanocrystal with Extremely High Activity for the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction in Both Acidic and Alkaline Media

Yutong Li, Fuqiang Chu, Yang Liu, Yong Kong, Yongxin Tao, Yongxin Li and Yong Qin

Chem. Commun., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc08276f

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Copper A3 Coupling using a Switchable Homogeneous/Heterogeneous Catalyst

A MOC, I learned this week, is a metal-organic cage. I was familiar with MOMs, MOFs and MOBs, but MOCs were a new one. A MOM (metal-organic material) is a coordination-driven assembly constructed from metal nodes linked by organic ligands. MOMs encompass both MOFs (metal-organic frameworks) and MOCs (metal-organic cages). A MOF is an extended network with the potential for inner porosity, and a MOC is a discrete metal-ligand cluster. And that’s just about as far down the nomenclature rabbit hole I’m willing to go. If you’re keeping up you’ll realise that I forgot one! A MOB is a crowd of graduate students competing for free coffee at the public seminar.

Dong and co-workers at Shandong Normal University designed and prepared a MOM catalyst constructed from copper(II) nodes and a tripodal ligand consisting of a phenylic wheel functionalised with diketones. In chloroform these two components arrange into discrete MOC assemblies containing two tripodal ligands and three copper ions. The copper ions in the cluster are each coordinated to two diketone moieties (in a acetylacetonate-like fashion) in a quasi-square planar arrangement.

Synthesis of the tripodal ligand functionalised with diketone coordinating moieties.

Synthesis of the tripodal ligand functionalised with diketone coordinating moieties.

An interesting property of the material is that it can switch between the MOC form, soluble in halogenated solvents, and an insoluble MOF that assembles upon addition of 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-Dioxane is both an anti-solvent and a ligand; coordination between copper and 1,4-dioxane binds the discrete MOC cages to each other, arranging them into the extended MOF structure. This behaviour can be exploited to prepare a practical catalyst that combines the benefits of both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis, namely that homogeneous catalysts are generally more efficient, selective and easier to study, but heterogeneous catalysis are easier to recover and recycle. What better way to solve this problem than with a catalyst that is homogeneous during the reaction conditions, but heterogeneous when it comes to product separation?

Reversible metal-organic cage MOC(top left)-MOF(top right) metal-organic framework transition mediated by the addition of 1,4-dioxane. Coordination bonds between 1,4-dioxane shown (bottom image).

Reversible MOC(top left)-MOF(top right) transition mediated by the addition of 1,4-dioxane. Coordination bonds between 1,4-dioxane shown (bottom image).

The authors used the A3 coupling reaction to demonstrate this concept in a catalytic reaction. The A3 reaction is a transition metal-catalysed, multi-component coupling reaction between aldehydes, alkynes and amines. The products are propargylamines, practical synthetic intermediates for the synthesis of nitrogen heterocycles. The A3 reaction has been extensively studied and can be effected by a wide range of transition metal catalysts. Its versatility makes it a popular choice as a model catalytic reaction to demonstrate innovative ideas in catalytic design – as the authors have done here.

Coordination-driven assemblies have a unique potential for the synthesis of differentially soluble materials, used by the authors for novel catalytic design. Whether this particular metal-ligand combination can be applied to other copper catalysed reactions remains to be seen, nevertheless the principle offers an innovative approach that augments the range of methods striving to bridge the gap between homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis.

To find out more please read:

Cu3L2 metal-organic cages for A3-coupling reactions: reversible coordination interaction triggered homogeneous catalysis and heterogeneous recovery

Gong-Jun Chen, Chao-Qun Chen, Xue-Tian Li, Hui-Chao Ma and Yu-Bin Dong.
Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 11550-11553
DOI: 10.1039/c8cc07208f

About the author

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

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