Proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) plays a crucial role in many enzymatic reactions and is relevant for a variety of processes including water oxidation, nitrogen fixation, and carbon dioxide reduction. Much of the research on PCET has focused on transfers between molecules in their electronic ground states, but increasingly researchers are investigating PCET between photoexcited reactants. This Account describes recent studies of excited-state PCET with d6 metal complexes emphasizing work performed in my laboratory.
Upon photoexcitation, some complexes release an electron and a proton to benzoquinone reaction partners. Others act as combined electron-proton acceptors in the presence of phenols. As a result, we can investigate photoinduced PCET involving electron and proton transfer in a given direction, a process that resembles hydrogen-atom transfer (HAT). In other studies, the photoexcited metal complexes merely serve as electron donors or electron acceptors because the proton donating and accepting sites are located on other parts of the molecular PCET ensemble. We and others have used this multisite design to explore so-called bidirectional PCET which occurs in many enzymes. A central question in all of these studies is whether concerted proton-electron transfer (CPET) can compete kinetically with sequential electron and proton transfer steps.
Short laser pulses can trigger excited-state PCET, making it possible to investigate rapid reactions. Luminescence spectroscopy is a convenient tool for monitoring PCET, but unambiguous identification of reaction products can require a combination of luminescence spectroscopy and transient absorption spectroscopy. Nevertheless, in some cases, distinguishing between PCET photoproducts and reaction products formed by simple photoinduced electron transfer (ET) (reactions that don’t include proton transfer) is tricky. Some of the studies presented here deal directly with this important problem.
In one case study we employed a cyclometalated iridium(III) complex. Our other studies with ruthenium(II) complexes and phenols focused on systematic variations of the reaction free energies for the CPET, ET, and proton transfer (PT) steps to explore their influence on the overall PCET reaction. Still other work with rhenium(I) complexes concentrated on the question of how the electronic structure of the metal-to-ligand charge transfer (MLCT) excited states affects PCET. We used covalent rhenium(I)–phenol dyads to explore the influence of the electron donor–electron acceptor distance on bidirectional PCET. In covalent triarylamine–Ru(bpy)32+/Os(bpy)32+–anthraquinone triads (bpy = 2,2′-bipyridine), hydrogen-bond donating solvents significantly lengthened the lifetimes of photogenerated electron/hole pairs because of hydrogen-bonding to the quinone radical anion. Until now, comparatively few researchers have investigated this variation of PCET: the strengthening of H-bonds upon photoreduction.