A bioinspired iron catalyst for nitrate and perchlorate reduction

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Science  11 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6313, pp. 741-743
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6886

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Biological inspiration for reduction

Microorganisms have evolved sophisticated enzymatic machinery to reduce perchlorate and nitrate ions. Although the energetics of the pathways are different, the heme-containing active sites of the corresponding reductase enzymes are remarkably similar. Ford et al. constructed an inorganic catalyst to mediate these reactions based on these active sites, using a nonheme iron complex. A secondary coordination sphere near the iron center aligned the nitrate or perchlorate oxyanions and formed an iron-oxo complex. Regenerating the catalyst in the presence of protons and electrons released water—a potentially much more sustainable process than reduction strategies that require the use of harsh reagents.

Science, this issue p. 741


Nitrate and perchlorate have considerable use in technology, synthetic materials, and agriculture; as a result, they have become pervasive water pollutants. Industrial strategies to chemically reduce these oxyanions often require the use of harsh conditions, but microorganisms can efficiently reduce them enzymatically. We developed an iron catalyst inspired by the active sites of nitrate reductase and (per)chlorate reductase enzymes. The catalyst features a secondary coordination sphere that aids in oxyanion deoxygenation. Upon reduction of the oxyanions, an iron(III)-oxo is formed, which in the presence of protons and electrons regenerates the catalyst and releases water.

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