Surface Oxidation and Dissolution of Metal Nanocatalysts in Acid Medium

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Callejas-Tovar, Juan
Oxygen reduction reaction; fuel cells; molecular simulation; density functional theory; molecular dynamics; kinetic monte carlo; oxidation of nanoparticles; metal dissolution.
thesis / dissertation description
One of the most important challenges in low-temperature fuel cell technology is improving the catalytic efficiency at the electrode-catalyst where the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) occurs. Platinum is the best pure catalyst for this reaction but its high cost and scarcity hinder the commercial implementation of fuel cells in automobiles. Pt-based alloys are promising alternatives to substitute platinum while maintaining the efficiency and life-time of the pure catalyst. However, the acid medium and the oxidation of the surface reduce the activity and durability of the alloy catalyst through changes in its local composition and structure. Molecular simulation techniques are applied to characterize the thermodynamics and dynamic evolution of the surface of platinum-based alloy catalysts under reaction conditions.1-10 A simulation scheme of the surface oxidation is proposed which combines classical molecular dynamics (MD) and density functional theory (DFT). This approach is able to reproduce the main features of the oxidation phenomena observed experimentally, it is concluded that the dissolution mechanism of metal atoms involves: 1) Surface segregation of alloy atoms, 2) oxygen absorption into the subsurface of the catalyst, and 3) metal detachment through the interaction with ions in the solvent. Therefore, to improve the durability of platinum-based alloy catalysts, the steps of the dissolution mechanism must be prevented. A versatile 3-D kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC) code is developed to study the degradation and dealloying in nanocatalysts. The results on the degradation of Pt nanoparticles under different potential regimes demonstrate that the dissolution depends on the potential path to which the nanocatalyst is exposed. Metal atoms detach from the boundaries of (111) facets expecting a reduction in the activity of the nanoparticle. Also, the formation of Pt hollow nanoparticles by the Kirkendall effect is addressed, the role of vacancies is crucial in the removal of the non-noble core that yields to hollow nanoparticles. To investigate the reasons for the experimentally found enhanced ORR activity in porous/hollow nanoparticles, the effect of subsurface vacancies on the main ORR activity descriptors is studied with DFT. It is found that an optimum amount of vacancies may enhance the ORR activity of Pt-monolayer catalysts over certain alloy cores by changing the binding energies of O and OH.