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Catalytic Linkage Engineering of Covalent Organic Frameworks for the Oxygen Reduction Reaction

Metal-free covalent organic frameworks (COFs) have been employed to catalyze the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). To achieve high activity and selectivity, various building blocks containing heteroatoms and groups linked by imine bonds were used to create catalytic COFs. However, the roles of linkages of COFs in ORR have not been investigated. In this work, catalytic linkage engineering has been employed to modulate the catalytic behaviors. To create single catalytic sites while avoiding other possible catalytic sites, we synthesized COFs from benzene units linked by various bonds, such as imine, amide, azine, and oxazole bonds. Among these COFs, the oxazole-linkage in COFs enables to catalyze the ORR with the highest activity, which achieved a half-wave potential of 0.75 V and a limited current density of 5.5 mA cm-2. Moreover, the oxazole-linked COF achieved a conversion frequency (TOF) value of 0.0133 S−1, which were 1.9, 1.3, and 7.4-times that of azine-, amide- and imine-COFs, respectively. The theoretical calculation showed that the carbon atoms in oxazole linkages facilitated the form of OOH* and promoted protonation of O* to form the OH*, thus advancing the catalytic activity. This work guides us on which linkages in COFs are suitable for ORR.

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