Electrochemical activation of C–H by electron-deficient W2C nanocrystals for simultaneous alkoxylation and hydrogen evolution

Xiu Lin, Shi Nan Zhang, Dong Xu, Jun Jun Zhang, Yun Xiao Lin, Guang Yao Zhai, Hui Su, Zhong Hua Xue, Xi Liu, Markus Antonietti, Jie Sheng Chen, Xin Hao Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The activation of C–H bonds is a central challenge in organic chemistry and usually a key step for the retro-synthesis of functional natural products due to the high chemical stability of C–H bonds. Electrochemical methods are a powerful alternative for C–H activation, but this approach usually requires high overpotential and homogeneous mediators. Here, we design electron-deficient W2C nanocrystal-based electrodes to boost the heterogeneous activation of C–H bonds under mild conditions via an additive-free, purely heterogeneous electrocatalytic strategy. The electron density of W2C nanocrystals is tuned by constructing Schottky heterojunctions with nitrogen-doped carbon support to facilitate the preadsorption and activation of benzylic C–H bonds of ethylbenzene on the W2C surface, enabling a high turnover frequency (18.8 h−1) at a comparably low work potential (2 V versus SCE). The pronounced electron deficiency of the W2C nanocatalysts substantially facilitates the direct deprotonation process to ensure electrode durability without self-oxidation. The efficient oxidation process also boosts the balancing hydrogen production from as-formed protons on the cathode by a factor of 10 compared to an inert reference electrode. The whole process meets the requirements of atomic economy and electric energy utilization in terms of sustainable chemical synthesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3882
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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