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Bright or Dark: Unexpected Photocatalytic Behavior of Closely Related Phenanthroline‐based Copper(I) Photosensitizers

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In search of a better understanding of the structure-property relationship of heteroleptic CuI photosensitizers, two structurally closely related complexes are investigated in detail. Although both compounds bear the same 4-methoxyphenyl substituents at the phenanthroline moiety (i.e. at 5,6-position in Cu1 and at 4,7-position in Cu2), their attenuation coefficients in the 300-500 nm range differ by a factor of more than two. Even more drastic is the difference in emission lifetime (11 vs 628 ns), which deviates by a factor of almost 60. A combination of solid-state structural analysis, TDDFT calculations, transient absorption spectroscopy and quenching studies is then applied to elucidate the reasons for the superior photophysical properties of Cu2. Subsequently, a non-emissive and long-lived excited state (715 ns) has been revealed for Cu1. In a next step, both complexes were successfully used in the photocatalytic splitting of water and the reduction of CO2 to CO to test the influence of this behavior on the activity. Most importantly, Cu2 not only performs significantly better than Cu1, but also than the benchmark system and the noble-metal-based complex [Ir(dFppy)3].

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