Using Metadynamics to Reveal Extractant Conformational Free Energy Landscapes

XY Wang and MJ Servis, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 128, 263-272 (2023).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.3c06637

Understanding the impact of extractant functionalization on metal- binding energetics in liquid-liquid extraction is essential to guide the development of better separation processes. Traditionally, computational extractant design uses electronic structure calculations on metal-ligand clusters to determine the metal-binding energy of the lowest energy state. Although highly accurate, this approach does not account for all of the relevant physics encountered under experimental conditions. Such methodologies often neglect entropic contributions such as temperature effects and ligand flexibility, in addition to approximating solvent- extractant interactions with implicit solvent models. In this study, we use classical molecular dynamics simulations with an advanced sampling method, metadynamics, to map out extractant molecule conformational free energies in the condensed phase. We generate the complete conformational landscape in solution for a family of bidentate malonamide-based extractants with different functionalizations of the headgroup and the side chains. In particular, we show how such alkyl functionalization reshapes the free energy landscape, affecting the free energy penalty of organizing the extractant into the cis-like metal-binding conformation from the trans-like conformation of the free extractant in solution. Specifically, functionalizing alkyl tails to the center of the headgroup has a greater influence on increasing molecular rigidity and disfavoring the binding conformation than functionalizing side chains. These findings are consistent with trends in metal-binding energetics based on experimentally reported distribution ratios. We also consider a different bidentate extractant molecule, carbamoylmethylphosphine oxide, and show how the choice of solvent can further reshape the conformational energetic landscape. This study demonstrates the feasibility of using molecular dynamics simulations with advanced sampling techniques to investigate extractant conformational energetics in solution, which, more broadly, will enable extractant design that accounts for entropic effects and explicit solvation.

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