Ligand control of hydrocarbon C-H bond functionalization by uranyl photocatalysts

09 October 2023, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


The aqueous uranyl dication has long been known to facilitate the UV light-induced decomposition of aqueous VOCs (volatile organic compounds), via the long-lived highly efficient, uranyl excited state. However, the lower-energy visible light excited uranyl ion is also able to cleave unactivated hydrocarbon C-H bonds, yet the development of this reactivity into controlled and catalytic C-H bond functionalization is still in its infancy, with almost all studies still focused on uranyl nitrate as the precatalyst. Here, hydrocarbon-soluble, uranyl nitrate and chloride complexes supported by substituted phenanthroline (Ph2phen) ligands are compared to each other, and to the parent salts, as photocatalysts for the functionalization of cyclooctane by H atom abstraction. Analysis of the absorption and emission spectra, and emission lifetimes of Ph2phen-coordinated uranyl complexes demonstrate the utility of the ligand in light absorption in the photocatalysis, which is related to the energy and kinetic decay profile of the uranyl photoexcited state. Density Functional Theory computational analysis of the C-H activation steps in the reaction show how a set of dispersion forces between the hydrocarbon substrate and the Ph2phen ligand provide control over the H atom abstraction, and provide predictions of selectivity of H atom abstraction by the uranyl oxo of the ring CH over the ethyl C-H in an ethylcyclohexane substrate.


dispersion forces
C-H activation


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