Optimizing open iron sites in metal-organic frameworks for ethane oxidation: A first-principles study

Peilin Liao, Rachel B. Getman, Randall Q. Snurr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Activation of the C-H bonds in ethane to form ethanol is a highly desirable, yet challenging, reaction. Metal- organic frameworks (MOFs) with open Fe sites are promising candidates for catalyzing this reaction. One advantage of MOFs is their modular construction from inorganic nodes and organic linkers, allowing for flexible design and detailed control of properties. In this work, we studied a series of single-metal atom Fe model systems with ligands that are commonly used as MOF linkers and tried to understand how one can design an optimal Fe catalyst. We found linear relationships between the binding enthalpy of oxygen to the Fe sites and common descriptors for catalytic reactions, such as the Fe 3d energy levels in different reaction intermediates. We further analyzed the three highest-barrier steps in the ethane oxidation cycle (including desorption of the product) with the Fe 3d energy levels. Volcano relationships are revealed with peaks toward higher Fe 3d energy and stronger electron-donating group functionalization of linkers. Furthermore, we found that the Fe 3d energy levels positively correlate with the electron-donating strength of functional groups on the linkers. Finally, we validated our hypotheses on larger models of MOF-74 iron sites. Compared with MOF-74, functionalizing the MOF-74 linkers with NH2 groups lowers the enthalpic barrier for the most endothermic step in the reaction cycle. Our findings provide insight for catalyst optimization and point out directions for future experimental efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33484-33492
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number39
StatePublished - Oct 4 2017


  • Catalyst screening
  • DFT
  • Ethane
  • Ethanol
  • Metal-organic frameworks
  • Nitrous oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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