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Reversible and Site-Dependent Proton-Transfer in Zeolites Uncovered at the Single-Molecule Level

Ristanović, Zoran, Chowdhury, Abhishek Dutta, Brogaard, Rasmus Y., Houben, Klaartje, Baldus, Marc, Hofkens, Johan, Roeffaers, Maarten B. J., Weckhuysen, Bert M.
Journal of the American Chemical Society 2018 v.140 no.43 pp. 14195-14205
Bronsted acids, dimerization, fluorescence, fluorescence microscopy, moieties, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, photostability, solvents, styrene, thermodynamics, zeolites
Zeolite activity and selectivity is often determined by the underlying proton and hydrogen-transfer reaction pathways. For the first time, we use single-molecule fluorescence microscopy to directly follow the real-time behavior of individual styrene-derived carbocationic species formed within zeolite ZSM-5. We find that intermittent fluorescence and remarkable photostability of carbocationic intermediates strongly depend on the local chemical environment imposed by zeolite framework and guest solvent molecules. The carbocationic stability can be additionally altered by changing para-substituent on the styrene moiety, as suggested by DFT calculations. Thermodynamically unstable carbocations are more likely to switch between fluorescent (carbocationic) and dark (neutral) states. However, the rate constants of this reversible change can significantly differ among individual carbocations, depending on their exact location in the zeolite framework. The lifetimes of fluorescent states and reversibility of the process can be additionally altered by changing the interaction between dimeric carbocations and solvated Brønsted acid sites in the MFI framework. Advanced multidimensional magic angle spinning solid-state NMR spectroscopy has been employed for the accurate structural elucidation of the reaction products during the zeolite-catalyzed dimerization of styrene in order to corroborate the single-molecule fluorescence microscopy data. This complementary approach of single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, NMR, and DFT collectively indicates that the relative stability of the carbocationic and the neutral states largely depends on the substituent and the local position of the Brønsted acid site within the zeolite framework. As a consequence, new insights into the host–guest chemistry between the zeolite and aromatics, in terms of their surface mobility and reactivity, have been obtained.