Breaking C–C Bonds via Electrochemically Mediated Hydrogen Atom Transfer Reactions

11 May 2021, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Cleaving inert sp3-sp3 carbon-carbon (C-C) bonds selectively remains a major challenge in organic chemistry and a main bottleneck in the chemical upcycling of recalcitrant polyolefin waste. Here, we present an electrochemical strategy using redox mediators to activate and break C-C bonds at room temperature and ambient pressure. Specifically, we use N-hydroxyphthalimide (NHPI) as a redox mediator that undergoes electrochemical oxidation to form the phthalimide-N-oxyl (PINO) radical to initiate hydrogen atom transfer (HAT) reactions with benzylic C-H bonds. The resulting benzylic carbon radical is readily captured by molecular oxygen to form a peroxy radical that decomposes into oxygenated C-C bond-scission fragments. This indirect, mediated approach for Csp3-Csp3 bond cleavage reduces the oxidation potential by > 1.2 V compared to the direct oxidation of the substrate, thereby eliminating deleterious side reactions, such as solvent oxidation, that may occur at high potentials. Studies with a bibenzyl model compound revealed a bifurcated reaction pathway following the initial HAT step. At a bibenzyl conversion of 61.0%, the C-C bond cleavage pathway generates benzaldehyde and benzoic acid products at 38.4% selectivity, and the C-H bond oxygenation pathway leads to 1,2-diphenylethanone and benzil products at 39.2% selectivity. Changes in reaction selectivity were investigated with various model compounds, including bibenzyl, 1,3-diphenylpropane, 1,4-diphenylbutane, and their derivatives. Product selectivity is correlated with the C-C bond strength of the reactant, with weaker C-C bonds favoring the C-C bond cleavage pathway. We also evaluated the mediated oxidation of oligomeric styrene (Mn = 510 Da, OS510) which were converted into oxygenated products. Lastly, proof-of-concept depolymerization of polystyrene (PS, ~10,000 Da) into oxygenated monomers, dimers, and oligomers was demonstrated using NHPI-mediated oxidation.


C-C bond cleavage
redox mediator
plastic upcycle

Supplementary materials

SI NHPI mediate C-C cleavage


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