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Synthesis

Vanadium Complex Shreds Nitrous Oxide

In a chemical first, metal cleaves both the N–O and the N–N bonds of nitrous oxide

by Stephen K. Ritter
January 30, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 5

Metal-induced bond cleavage of nitrous oxide (N2O) typically proceeds by rupture of the N–O bond, leaving the oxygen atom bound to the metal and giving off N2 gas as a by-product. On rare occasions, N–N bond cleavage happens instead. A team led by Kay Severin at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, now reports a reaction sequence that results in cleavage of both the N–O and N–N bonds (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja210976a). The team used a pair of complementary reagents to accomplish the feat: a vanadium mesityl complex with a strong affinity for oxygen and the strong Lewis basic N-heterocyclic carbene 1,3-dimesitylimidazol-2-ylidene, which weakens the N–N bond. Nitrous oxide is an efficient greenhouse gas, and under the right conditions in the atmosphere it’s an ozone-depleting substance. Severin’s team is studying N2O cleavage to learn how to overcome its inert character, which could lead to environmental remediation strategies or the ability to use N2O as a chemical reagent.

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