Protons play essential roles in natural systems in controlling O-O bond cleavage of peroxoiron(III) species to give rise to the high-valent iron oxidants that carry out the desired transformations. Herein, we report kinetic and mechanistic evidence that acids can control the mode of O-O bond cleavage for a nonheme S = 1/2 FeIII-OOH species [(BnTPEN)FeIII(OOH)]2+ (2, BnTPEN = N-benzyl-N,N′,N′-tris(2-pyridylmethyl)-1,2-diaminoethane). Addition of acids having pKa values of >8.5 in CH3CN results in O-O bond homolysis, leading to the formation of hydroxyl radicals that give rise to alcohol/ketone (A/K) ratios of around 1 in the oxidation of cyclohexane. However, the introduction of acids with pKa values of <8.5 elicits a different outcome, namely the achievement of A/K ratios of as high as 9, the observation of rapid and catalytic hydroxylation of cyclohexane, and a million-fold acceleration in the decay rate of the FeIII-OOH intermediate at -40 °C. These results implicate the generation of a highly reactive FeV=O species via proton-assisted O-O bond heterolysis of the FeIII-OOH intermediate, which is unprecedented for nonheme iron complexes supported by neutral pentadentate ligands and serves as a nonheme analogue for heme enzyme compounds I.
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