Amine(imine)diphosphine Iron Catalysts for Asymmetric Transfer Hydrogenation of Ketones and Imines

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Science  29 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6162, pp. 1080-1083
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244466

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Lighter Hydrogenation Catalysts

Enzymes have evolved to use abundant metals such as iron, cobalt, and nickel for redox catalysis. However, synthetic catalysis has generally relied on the rarer, heavier relatives of these elements: ruthenium, rhodium, iridium, palladium, and platinum (see the Perspective by Bullock). Friedfeld et al. (p. 1076) used high-throughput screening to show that the right cobalt precursor can be activated for asymmetric hydrogenation catalysis by using the traditional ligands developed for the precious metals. Zuo et al. (p. 1080) focused on iron, demonstrating a highly effective asymmetric transfer hydrogenation catalyst that uses a ligand rationally designed after careful mechanistic study. Jagadeesh et al. (p. 1073) prepared supported iron catalysts that selectively reduce nitro substituents on aromatic rings to amines, thereby facilitating the preparation of a wide range of aniline derivatives.


A rational approach is needed to design hydrogenation catalysts that make use of Earth-abundant elements to replace the rare elements such as ruthenium, rhodium, and palladium that are traditionally used. Here, we validate a prior mechanistic hypothesis that partially saturated amine(imine)diphosphine ligands (P-NH-N-P) activate iron to catalyze the asymmetric reduction of the polar bonds of ketones and imines to valuable enantiopure alcohols and amines, with isopropanol as the hydrogen donor, at turnover frequencies as high as 200 per second at 28°C. We present a direct synthetic approach to enantiopure ligands of this type that takes advantage of the iron(lI) ion as a template. The catalytic mechanism is elucidated by the spectroscopic detection of iron hydride and amide intermediates.

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