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Noncovalent Bonding Controls Selectivity in Heterogeneous Catalysis: Coupling Reactions on Gold
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 138(46):15243-15250 Nov 2016

Karakalos, Stavros; Xu, Yunfei; Kabeer, Fairoja Cheenicode; Chen, Wei; Rodriguez-Reyes, Juan Carlos F.; Tkatchenko, Alexandre; Kaxiras, Efthimios; Madix, Robert J.; Friend, Cynthia M.

Enhancing the selectivity of catalytic processes has potential for substantially increasing the sustainability of chemical production. Herein, we establish relationships between reaction selectivity and molecular structure for a homologous series of key intermediates for oxidative coupling of alcohols on gold using a combination of experiment and theory. We establish a scale of binding for molecules with different alkyl structures and chain lengths and thereby demonstrate the critical nature of noncovalent van der Waals interactions in determining the selectivity by modulating the stability of key reaction intermediates bound to the surface. The binding hierarchy is the same for Au(111) and Au(110), which demonstrates a relative lack of sensitivity to the surface structure. The hierarchy of binding established in this work provides guiding principles for predicting how molecular structure affects the competition for binding sites more broadly. Besides the nature of the primary surface-molecule bonding, three additional factors that affect the stabilities of the reactive intermediates are clearly established: (1) the number of C atoms in the alkyl chain, (2) the presence of C–C bond unsaturation, and (3) the degree of branching of the alkyl group of the adsorbed molecules. We suggest that this is a fundamental principle that is generally applicable to a broad range of reactions on metal catalysts.

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