Exploration of earth-abundant transition metals (Fe, Co, and Ni) as catalysts in unreactive chemical bond activations.

Research paper by Bo B Su, Zhi-Chao ZC Cao, Zhang-Jie ZJ Shi

Indexed on: 14 Feb '15Published on: 14 Feb '15Published in: Accounts of Chemical Research


Activation of inert chemical bonds, such as C-H, C-O, C-C, and so on, is a very important area, to which has been drawn much attention by chemists for a long time and which is viewed as one of the most ideal ways to produce valuable chemicals. Under modern chemical bond activation logic, many conventionally viewed "inert" chemical bonds that were intact under traditional conditions can be reconsidered as novel functionalities, which not only avoids the tedious synthetic procedures for prefunctionalizations and the emission of undesirable wastes but also inspires chemists to create novel synthetic strategies in completely different manners. Although activation of "inert" chemical bonds using stoichiometric amounts of transition metals has been reported in the past, much more attractive and challenging catalytic transformations began to blossom decades ago. Compared with the broad application of late and noble transition metals in this field, the earth-abundant first-row transition-metals, such as Fe, Co, and Ni, have become much more attractive, due to their obvious advantages, including high abundance on earth, low price, low or no toxicity, and unique catalytic characteristics. In this Account, we summarize our recent efforts toward Fe, Co, and Ni catalyzed "inert" chemical bond activation. Our research first unveiled the unique catalytic ability of iron catalysts in C-O bond activation of both carboxylates and benzyl alcohols in the presence of Grignard reagents. The benzylic C-H functionalization was also developed via Fe catalysis with different nucleophiles, including both electron-rich arenes and 1-aryl-vinyl acetates. Cobalt catalysts also showed their uniqueness in both aromatic C-H activation and C-O activation in the presence of Grignard reagents. We reported the first cobalt-catalyzed sp(2) C-H activation/arylation and alkylation of benzo[h]quinoline and phenylpyridine, in which a new catalytic pathway via an oxidative addition process was demonstrated to be much preferable. Another interesting discovery was the Co-catalyzed magnesiation of benzylic alcohols in the presence of different Grignard reagents, which proceeded via Co-mediated selective C-O bond activation. In C-O activation, Ni catalysts were found to be most powerful, showing the high efficacy in different kinds of couplings starting form "inert" O-based electrophiles. In addition, Ni catalysts exhibited their power in C-H and C-C activation, which have been proven by us and pioneers in this field. Notably, our developments indicated that the catalytic efficacy in cross coupling between aryl bromides and arenes under mild conditions was not the privilege of several noble metals; most of the transition metals exhibited credible catalytic ability, including Fe, Co, and Ni. We hope our studies inspire more interest in the development of first row transition metal-catalyzed inert chemical bond functionalization.