Palladium-catalysed cross-coupling reactions, central tools in fine-chemical synthesis, predominantly employ soluble metal complexes despite recognized challenges with product purification and catalyst reusability1,2,3. Attempts to tether these homogeneous catalysts on insoluble carriers have been thwarted by suboptimal stability, which leads to a progressively worsening performance due to metal leaching or clustering4. The alternative application of supported Pd nanoparticles has faced limitations because of insufficient activity under the mild conditions required to avoid thermal degradation of the substrates or products. Single-atom heterogeneous catalysts lie at the frontier5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18. Here, we show that the Pd atoms anchored on exfoliated graphitic carbon nitride (Pd-ECN) capture the advantages of both worlds, as they comprise a solid catalyst that matches the high chemoselectivity and broad functional group tolerance of state-of-the-art homogeneous catalysts for Suzuki couplings, and also demonstrate a robust stability in flow. The adaptive coordination environment within the macroheterocycles of ECN facilitates each catalytic step. The findings illustrate the exciting opportunities presented by nanostructuring single atoms in solid hosts for catalytic processes that remain difficult to heterogenize.
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We thank ETH Zurich, the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant no. 200021-169679) and MINECO (CTQ2015-68770-R) for financial support. E.F. thanks MINECO La Caixa-Severo Ochoa for a predoctoral grant through Severo Ochoa Excellence Accreditation 2014-2018 (SEV-2013-0319). M.A.O. acknowledges the Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación postdoctoral program (IJCI-2016-29762). S.M.C. acknowledges support from the Henslow Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge. P.A.M. acknowledges the EPSRC (Grant no. EP/R008779/1) for funding. We thank ScopeM at ETH Zurich for access to its facilities, BSC-RES for providing generous computational resources, Diamond Light Source for access and support in the use of the electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (EM16967), R. Hauert for XPS measurements, D. N. Johnstone for assistance in acquiring data at ePSIC. G.V. and S.R. thank T. Weller (Idorsia Pharmaceuticals Ltd.) for his constant support.
Supplementary Figures 1–13, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary References
Molecular dynamics simulation tracking the trajectory of a single Pd atom in a first principles run
Animation following the path for the Suzuki reaction with the Pd-ECN catalyst during the individual elementary steps calculated by DFT