This is not the first time and probably will not be the last time I post about Frustrated Lewis Pairs (FLPs). Due to the unquenched acidity and basicity of FLPs, these systems present an extraordinary reactivity to the cleavage and activation of small molecules. Unarguably, the most important application is the activation of hydrogen, FLPs are capable to heterolitically cleavage the strong bond of the molecule of dihydrogen resulting in a hydride adduct of the Lewis acid and a protonated Lewis base at room temperature. From the point of view of a synthetic chemist, the activation of hydrogen with FLPs opens the door to a new class of metal-free hydrogenation reactions. However, creativity in the area of FLPs seems to be endless as shown in the great contributions by Andrew Ashley and Gregory G. Wildgoose groups from the Imperial College of London and the University of East Anglia towards the oxidation of hydrogen.
In the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, hydrogen has raised as a promising and a clean source for the production of electricity from chemical energy with the use of fuel cell technology. In the absence of a catalyst, the necessary process of oxidation of hydrogen is slow and require large overpotentials. Here is where the FLPs play their role as they considerably reduce the voltage required for the hydrogen oxidation due to the generation of hydride intermediates that are easier to oxidise to protons. Ashley, Wildgoose and co-workers were able to stoichiometrically oxidise hydrogen using one of the most basic FLP system B(C6F5)3/P(tBu)3 but unfortunately the system is not robust enough to complete more than one catalytic cycle. Some improvements were made recently replacing B(C6F5)3 for a borenium cation as a Lewis acid although the system is still lacking enough stability to properly catalyse the oxidation. As a proof of principle, it is indeed possible to oxidise hydrogen with an electrochemical/FLP approach. FLP systems have the advantage of their inherent “tuneability” and there is still plenty of room for improvement in the way to develop a FLP based fuel technology.
Do you want to know more? Here you are the original papers:
Elliot J. Lawrence, Vasily S. Oganesyan, David L. Hughes, Andrew E. Ashley, and Gregory G. Wildgoose. An Electrochemical Study of Frustrated Lewis Pairs: A Metal-Free Route to Hydrogen Oxidation. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2014, 136 , 6031–6036.
Elliot J. Lawrence, Thomas J. Herrington, Andrew E. Ashley, Gregory G. Wildgoose. Metal-Free Dihydrogen Oxidation by a Borenium Cation: A Combined Electrochemical/Frustrated Lewis Pair Approach. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2014, 53, 9922 –9925.