Conjugation-Driven "reverse Mars-van Krevelen"-Type Radical Mechanism for Low-Temperature C-O Bond Activation

Alexander V. Mironenko, Dionisios G. Vlachos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


C-O bond activation on monofunctional catalysts (metals, carbides, and oxides) is challenging due to activity constraints imposed by energy scaling relationships. Yet, contrary to predictions, recently discovered multifunctional metal/metal oxide catalysts (e.g., Rh/ReOx, Rh/MoOx, Ir/VOx) demonstrate unusually high C-O scission activity at moderate temperatures. Herein, we use extensive density functional theory calculations, first-principles microkinetic modeling, and electronic structure analysis to elucidate the metal/metal oxide synergy in the Ru/RuO2 catalyst, which enables up to 76% yield of the C-O scission product (2-methyl furan) in catalytic transfer hydrogenolysis of furfural at low temperatures. Our key mechanistic finding is a facile radical-mediated C-O bond activation on RuO2 oxygen vacancies, which directly leads to a weakly bound final product. This is the first time the radical reduction mechanism is reported in heterogeneous catalysis at temperatures <200 °C. We attribute the unique catalytic properties to the formation of a conjugation-stabilized furfuryl radical upon C-O bond scission, the strong hydroxyl affinity of oxygen vacancies due to the metallic character of RuO2, and the acid-base heterogeneity of the oxide surface. The conjugation-driven radical-assisted C-O bond scission applies to any catalytic surface that preserves the π-electron system of the reactant and leads to C-O selectivity enhancement, with notable examples including Cu, H-covered Pd, self-assembled monolayers on Pd, and oxygen-covered Mo2C. Furthermore, we reveal the cooperativity of active sites in multifunctional catalysts. The mechanism is fully consistent with kinetic studies and isotopic labeling experiments, and the insights gained might prove useful more broadly in overcoming activity constraints induced by energy scaling relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8104-8113
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jul 6 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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