Macromolecular Engineering of the Outer Coordination Sphere of [2Fe-2S] Metallopolymers to Enhance Catalytic Activity for H<sub>2</sub> Production

Small-molecule catalysts inspired by the active sites of [FeFe]-hydrogenase enzymes have long struggled to achieve fast rates of hydrogen evolution, long-term stability, water solubility, and oxygen compatibility. We profoundly improved on these deficiencies by grafting polymers from a metalloinitiator containing a [2Fe-2S] moiety to form water-soluble poly­(2-dimethylamino)­ethyl methacrylate metallopolymers (<b>PDMAEMA-<i>g</i>-[2Fe-2S]</b>) using atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP). This study illustrates the critical role of the polymer composition in enhancing hydrogen evolution and aerobic stability by comparing the catalytic activity of <b>PDMAEMA-<i>g</i>-[2Fe-2S]</b> with a nonionic water-soluble metallopolymer based on poly­(oligo­(ethylene glycol) methacrylate) prepared via ATRP (<b>POEGMA-<i>g</i>-[2Fe-2S]</b>) with the same [2Fe-2S] metalloinitiator. Additionally, the tunability of catalyst activity is demonstrated by the synthesis of metallocopolymers incorporating the 2-(dimethylamino)­ethyl methacrylate (DMAEMA) and oligo­(ethylene glycol) methacrylate (OEGMA) monomers. Electrochemical investigations into these metallo­(co)­polymers show that <b>PDMAEMA-<i>g</i>-[2Fe-2S]</b> retains complete aerobic stability with catalytic current densities in excess of 20 mA·cm<sup>–2</sup>, while <b>POEGMA-<i>g</i>-[2Fe-2S]</b> fails to reach 1 mA·cm<sup>–2</sup> current density even with the application of high overpotentials (η > 0.8 V) and loses all activity in the presence of oxygen. Random copolymers of the two monomers polymerized with the same [2Fe-2S] initiator showed intermediate activity in terms of current density, overpotential, and aerobic stability.