project . 2019 - 2022 . Closed

N-heterocyclic carbenes on metal surfaces - towards applications in corrosion inhibition and catalysis

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: EP/S027270/1
Funded under: EPSRC Funder Contribution: 499,752 GBP
Status: Closed
30 Jun 2019 (Started) 31 Dec 2022 (Ended)

This proposal aims to examine the utility of N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) in a number of technologically important areas including corrosion inhibition, etching of metal surfaces and enantioselective heterogeneous catalysis. This is a collaborative project between a catalytic surface scientist (Prof. Chris Baddeley, St Andrews) and experts in organometallic chemistry and materials science (Prof. Cathy Crudden, Queen's University, Ontario) and surface and materials chemistry (Prof. Hugh Horton, Queen's University, Ontario). NHCs are an exciting class of molecules that have been successfully and extensively employed in homogeneous catalysis since the 1990s. There has recently been a rapid increase in interest in the use of NHCs for the stabilisation of transition metal nanoparticles and extended metal surfaces. A very attractive feature of NHCs is their highly flexible synthesis. This makes it relatively straightforward to introduce functionality into the molecular structure of NHCs in order to tailor their properties. A key advance in this area was the development by Crudden's group of synthetic methods to produce bench stable NHCs in the carbonate form. Our work showed that NHCs of this type could be vapour deposited in ultrahigh vacuum onto metal surfaces (Baddeley) as well as being deposited from solution (Horton). Since the 1980s the creation of self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) on metal surfaces has led to many important applications. Commonly, SAMs consist of thiolate modified Au surfaces. Crudden and Horton showed that NHCs on Au outperform their thiolate analogues in terms of chemical and thermal stability. Baddeley was able to measure the strength of the Au-carbene bond and show that it is significantly stronger than the Au-S bond in thiolate SAMs. This project aims to exploit the chemical and thermal stability of NHC modified metals in a number of ways. Baddeley will use the complementary techniques of scanning tunnelling microscopy, high resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy and temperature programmed desorption to quantify the adsorption energy of NHCs on metal surfaces, to characterise the orientation, packing and thermal stability of adsorbed NHC molecules. The ability of NHCs to etch oxide surfaces and to passivate metal surfaces will be investigated with the objective of applying NHCs in the field of corrosion inhibition. The adsorption of chiral NHCs onto metal surfaces will be investigated with the aim of developing enantioselective heterogeneous catalysts - i.e. catalysts capable of producing one mirror image form of an organic molecule and not the other. Enantioselective catalysis is extremely important in the pharmaceutical and agrochemicals industries, but, to date, heterogeneous catalysts have made little impact on an industrial scale.

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