Dinitrogen Cleavage and Hydrogenation by a Trinuclear Titanium Polyhydride Complex

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Science  28 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6140, pp. 1549-1552
DOI: 10.1126/science.1238663

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Titanium Cleaver

A century after its discovery, the Haber Bosch process is still used to produce ammonia from nitrogen for fertilizer. Nonetheless, the process requires high temperature and pressure, and chemists continue to look for synthetic analogs to microbial nitrogenase enzymes, which have managed to slice through the N2 triple bond under ambient conditions for millennia. Most efforts in this vein have relied on a boost from the reducing power of alkali metals. Shima et al. (p. 1549; see the Perspective by Fryzuk) instead explored the reactivity of a titanium hydride cluster, which cleanly slices through N2 at room temperature and incorporates the separated N atoms into its framework. Though ammonia was not produced, the system offers hope in the search for mild nitrogen reduction catalysts.


Both the Haber-Bosch and biological ammonia syntheses are thought to rely on the cooperation of multiple metals in breaking the strong N≡N triple bond and forming an N–H bond. This has spurred investigations of the reactivity of molecular multimetallic hydrides with dinitrogen. We report here the reaction of a trinuclear titanium polyhydride complex with dinitrogen, which induces dinitrogen cleavage and partial hydrogenation at ambient temperature and pressure. By 1H and 15N nuclear magnetic resonance, x-ray crystallographic, and computational studies of some key reaction steps and products, we have determined that the dinitrogen (N2) reduction proceeds sequentially through scission of a N2 molecule bonded to three Ti atoms in a μ-η122-end-on-side-on fashion to give a μ2-N/μ3-N dinitrido species, followed by intramolecular hydrogen migration from Ti to the μ2-N nitrido unit.

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