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Scientific article
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Nitrogenase Bioelectrochemistry for Synthesis Applications

Published inAccounts of Chemical Research, vol. 52, no. 12, p. 3351-3360
Publication date2019
Abstract

The fixation of atmospheric dinitrogen to ammonia by industrial technologies (such as the Haber Bosch process) has revolutionized humankind. In contrast to industrial technologies, a single enzyme is known for its ability to reduce or “fix” dinitrogen: nitrogenase. Nitrogenase is a complex oxidoreductase enzymatic system that includes a catalytic protein (where dinitrogen is reduced) and an electron-transferring reductase protein (termed the Fe protein) that delivers the electrons necessary for dinitrogen fixation. The catalytic protein most commonly contains a FeMo cofactor (called the MoFe protein), but it can also contain a VFe or FeFe cofactor. Besides their ability to fix dinitrogen to ammonia, these nitrogenases can also reduce substrates such as carbon dioxide to formate. Interestingly, the VFE nitrogenase can also form carbon–carbon bonds. The vast majority of research surrounding nitrogenase employs the Fe protein to transfer electrons, which is also associated with the rate-limiting step of nitrogenase catalysis and also requires the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate. Thus, there is significant interest in artificially transferring electrons to the catalytic nitrogenase proteins. In this Account, we review nitrogenase electrocatalysis whereby electrons are delivered to nitrogenase from electrodes. We first describe the use of an electron mediator (cobaltocene) to transfer electrons from electrodes to the MoFe protein. The reduction of protons to molecular hydrogen was realized, in addition to azide and nitrite reduction to ammonia. Bypassing the rate-limiting step within the Fe protein, we also describe how this approach was used to interrogate the rate-limiting step of the MoFe protein: metal-hydride protonolysis at the FeMo-co. This Account next reviews the use of cobaltocene to mediate electron transfer to the VFe protein, where the reduction of carbon dioxide and the formation of carbon–carbon bonds (yielding the formation of ethene and propene) was realized. This approach also found success in mediating electron transfer to the FeFe catalytic protein, which exhibited improved carbon dioxide reduction in comparison to the MoFe protein. In the final example of mediated electron transfer to the catalytic protein, this Account also reviews recent work where the coupling of infrared spectroscopy with electrochemistry enabled the potential-dependent binding of carbon monoxide to the FeMo-co to be studied. As an alternative to mediated electron transfer, recent work that has sought to transfer electrons to the catalytic proteins in the absence of electron mediators (by direct electron transfer) is also reviewed. This approach has subsequently enabled a thermodynamic landscape to be proposed for the cofactors of the catalytic proteins. Finally, this Account also describes nitrogenase electrocatalysis whereby electrons are first transferred from an electrode to the Fe protein, before being transferred to the MoFe protein alongside the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate. In this way, increased quantities of ammonia can be electrocatalytically produced from dinitrogen fixation. We discuss how this has led to the further upgrade of electrocatalytically produced ammonia, in combination with additional enzymes (diaphorase, alanine dehydrogenase, and transaminase), to selective production of chiral amine intermediates for pharmaceuticals. This Account concludes by discussing current and future research challenges in the field of electrocatalytic nitrogen fixation by nitrogenase.

Funding
  • European Commission - Bioelectroreduction of nitrogen to ammonia: the incorporation of nitrogenase within enzymatic biological fuel cells for simultaneous production of electrical energy and ammonia. [654836]
Citation (ISO format)
MILTON, Ross Dean, MINTEER, Shelley D. Nitrogenase Bioelectrochemistry for Synthesis Applications. In: Accounts of Chemical Research, 2019, vol. 52, n° 12, p. 3351–3360. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.9b00494
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ISSN of the journal0001-4842
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