Catalyst Halogenation Enables Rapid and Efficient Polymerizations with Visible to Near-Infrared Light

Driving rapid polymerizations with visible to near-infrared (NIR) light will enable nascent technologies in the emerging fields of bio- and composite-printing. However, current photopolymerization strategies are limited by long reaction times, high light intensities, and/or large catalyst loadings. Improving efficiency remains elusive without a comprehensive, mechanistic evaluation of photocatalysis to better understand how composition relates to polymerization metrics. With this objective in mind, a series of methine- and aza-bridged boron dipyrromethene (BODIPY) derivatives were synthesized and systematically characterized to elucidate key structure-property relationships that facilitate efficient photopolymerization driven by visible to NIR light. For both BODIPY scaffolds, halogenation was shown as a general method to increase polymerization rate, quantitatively characterized using a custom real-time infrared spectroscopy setup. Furthermore, a combination of steady-state emission quenching experiments, electronic structure calculations, and ultrafast transient absorption revealed that efficient intersystem crossing to the lowest excited triplet state upon halogenation was a key mechanistic step to achieving rapid photopolymerization reactions. Unprecedented polymerization rates were achieved with extremely low light intensities (< 1 mW/cm2) and catalyst loadings (< 50 μM), exemplified by reaction completion within 60 seconds of irradiation using green, red, and NIR light-emitting diodes.