Phthalimide N-oxyl (PINO) is a potent hydrogen atom transfer (HAT) catalyst that can be generated electrochemically from N-hydroxyphthalimide (NHPI). However, catalyst decomposition has limited its application. This paper details mechanistic studies of the generation and decomposition of PINO under electrochemical conditions. Voltammetric data, observations from bulk electrolysis, and computational studies suggest two primary aspects. First, base-promoted formation of PINO from NHPI occurs via multiple-site concerted proton-electron transfer (MS-CPET). Second, PINO decomposition occurs by at least two second-order paths, one of which is greatly enhanced by base. Optimal catalytic efficiency in PINO-catalyzed oxidations occurs in the presence of bases whose corresponding conjugate acids have pKas in the range of 12-15, which strike a balance between promoting PINO formation and minimizing its decay.
On the Mechanism of Electrochemical Generation and Decomposition of Phthalimide N-oxyl (PINO)