In a groundbreaking collaboration between researchers from the United States, China, and the Netherlands, Davidson School of Chemical Engineering’s Dr. Zhenhua Zeng and Professor Jeffrey Greeley have made significant strides in catalysis research and catalyst design by delving into the world of active sites. Their findings not only shed light on previous studies of catalytic reactivity and active site identification but also pave the way for the development of new catalysts with vastly improved performance.

One of the key aspects of their research is the identification and classification of active sites based on distinct surface motifs, such as steps and terraces. While this categorization has been widely accepted in the field of catalysis, Professor Greeley argues that it oversimplifies the complexity of active site identification. This oversimplification can lead to the misclassification of active sites and inaccurate predictions of catalytic activity, ultimately hindering opportunities for innovative catalyst design.

Published in the esteemed journal Nature, their article titled “Site-specific reactivity of stepped Pt surfaces driven by stress release” introduces a novel concept in the field of catalysis: atomic site-specific reactivity driven by surface stress release. This overlooked phenomenon in the current classification process reveals a fundamentally new class of active sites characterized by diverse surface structures connected by extended stress and strain fields on the catalyst surface. This discovery has the potential to pave the way for the development of groundbreaking catalysts for fuel cells and other electrochemical devices.

Using stepped Pt(111) surfaces and the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) as examples, the researchers demonstrate how surface stress release leads to inhomogeneous strain fields, resulting in distinct electronic structures and reactivity for terrace atoms with identical local coordination. The ability to control ORR reactivity by adjusting terrace widths or managing external stress presents exciting opportunities for catalyst design. This challenges the conventional belief of uniform reactivity among atomic sites with similar local environments, offering new insights into the role of imperfections in catalytic activity.

Dr. Zeng emphasizes the significance of these findings in providing atomic-scale insights into active sites of stepped Pt surfaces, particularly in the context of hydrogen fuel cells. This newfound understanding not only enhances our comprehension of previous experiments but also holds promise for the development of novel catalysts with significantly enhanced performance. The collaborative nature of this research, as noted by Professor Marc Koper of Leiden University, showcases the power of merging high-quality computations and experiments to gain unique insights into longstanding issues in surface electrocatalysis. The work done by Dr. Zeng, Professor Greeley, and their international collaborators opens up a new realm of possibilities in catalysis research and catalyst design, promising exciting advancements in the field.

Chemistry

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