• bridging ligands;
  • cobalt;
  • density functional calculations;
  • hydrogen evolution;
  • proton coupled electron transfer


Cobalt(diimine-dioxime) complexes catalyze hydrogen evolution with low overpotentials and remarkable stability. In this study, DFT calculations were used to investigate their catalytic mechanism, to demonstrate that the initial active state was a CoI complex and that H2 was evolved in a heterolytic manner through the protonation of a CoII[BOND]hydride intermediate. In addition, these catalysts were shown to adjust their electrocatalytic potential for hydrogen evolution to the pH value of the solution and such a property was assigned to the presence of a H+-exchange site on the oxime bridge. It was possible to establish that protonation of the bridge was directly involved in the H2-evolution mechanism through proton-coupled electron-transfer steps. A consistent mechanistic scheme is proposed that fits the experimentally determined electrocatalytic and electrochemical potentials of cobalt(diimine-dioxime) complexes and reproduces the observed positive shift of the electrocatalytic potential with increasing acidity of the proton source.