Catalytic Mechanisms of Transfer Hydrogenation of Azobenzene with Ammonia Borane by Pincer Bismuth Complex: Crucial Role of C=N Functional Group on the Pincer Ligand
Transfer hydrogenation of azobenzene with ammonia borane mediated by pincer bismuth complex 1 were systematically investigated through density functional theory calculations. An unusual metal-ligand cooperation mechanism was disclosed, in which the saturation/regeneration of the C=N functional group on the pincer ligand plays an essential role. The reaction is initiated by the hydrogenation of the C=N bond (saturation) with ammonia borane to afford 3CN, which is the rate-determining step with Gibbs energy barrier (ΔG≠) and Gibbs reaction energy (ΔG) of 25.6 and -7.3 kcal/mol, respectively. 3CN is then converted to a Bi-H intermediate through a water-bridged pathway, which is followed up with the transfer hydrogenation of azobenzene to produce the final product N,N'-diphenylhydrazine and regenerate the catalyst. Finally, the catalyst could be improved by substituting the phenyl group for the tert-butyl group on the pincer ligand, where the ΔG≠ value (rate-determining step) decreases to 24.0 kcal/mol.