Understanding the catalytic activity of oxides through their electronic structure and surface chemistry
Author(s)Stoerzinger, Kelsey A. (Kelsey Ann)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
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The intermittent nature of renewable energy sources requires a clean, scalable means of converting and storing energy. Water electrolysis can sustainably achieve this goal by storing energy in the bonds of oxygen and hydrogen molecules. The efficiency of this storage-conversion process is largely determined by the kinetic overpotential required for the oxygen evolution and reduction reactions (OER and ORR), respectively. This thesis focuses on transition metal oxides as alternative oxygen catalysts to costly and scarce noble metals. In order to develop descriptors to improve catalytic activity, thus reducing material cost for commercial technologies, this work studies fundamental processes that occur on model catalyst systems. Electrochemical studies of epitaxial oxide thin films establish the intrinsic activity of oxide catalysts in a way that cannot be realized with polydisperse nanoparticle systems. This thesis has isolated the activity of the catalyst on a true surface-area basis, enabling an accurate comparison of catalyst chemistries, and also revealed how different terminations and structures affect the kinetics. These studies of epitaxial thin films are among the first to probe phenomena that are not straightforward to isolate in nanoparticles, such as the role of oxide band structure, interfacial charge transfer (the "ligand" effect), strain, and crystallographic orientation. In addition, these well-defined surfaces allow spectroscopic examinations of their chemical speciation in an aqueous environment by using ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. By quantifying the formation of hydroxyl groups, we compare the relative affinity of different surfaces for this key reaction intermediate in oxygen electrocatalysis. The strength of interaction with hydroxyls correlates inversely with activity, illustrating detrimental effects of strong water interactions at the catalyst surface. This fundamental insight brings molecular understanding to the wetting of oxide surfaces, as well as the role of hydrogen bonding in catalysis. Furthermore, understanding of the mechanisms of oxygen electrocatalysis guides the rational design of high-surface-area oxide catalysts for technical application.
Thesis: Ph. D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, 2016.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.Cataloged from student-submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Materials Science and Engineering.