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We describe a series of diketiminate-supported FeNNFe complexes in the formal Fe0 oxidation state, which have two alkali metal cations (alkali metal cation = Na+, K+, Rb+, Cs+) bound side-on to the N2 ligand. Larger cations twist the core of the molecule, but the back-bonding is similar through the series. Computations on the FeNNFe core show that the orbital energies move in compensating directions upon twisting, explaining the curious independence of the core metrics with twisting.
Alkali metal cations can interact with Fe–N2 complexes, potentially enhancing back-bonding or influencing the geometry of the iron atom. These influences are relevant to large-scale N2 reduction by iron, such as in the FeMoco of nitrogenase and the alkali-promoted Haber–Bosch process. However, to our knowledge there have been no systematic studies of a large range of alkali metals regarding their influence on transition metal–dinitrogen complexes. In this work, we varied the alkali metal in [alkali cation]2[LFeNNFeL] complexes (L = bulky β-diketiminate ligand) through the size range from Na+ to K+, Rb+, and Cs+. The FeNNFe cores have similar Fe–N and N–N distances and N–N stretching frequencies despite the drastic change in alkali metal cation size. The two diketiminates twist relative to one another, with larger dihedral angles accommodating the larger cations. In order to explain why the twisting has so little influence on the core, we performed density functional theory calculations on a simplified LFeNNFeL model, which show that the two metals surprisingly do not compete for back-bonding to the same π* orbital of N2, even when the ligand planes are parallel. This diiron system can tolerate distortion of the ligand planes through compensating orbital energy changes, and thus, a range of ligand orientations can give very similar energies.
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