Nucleation, Growth, and Repair of a Cobalt-Based Oxygen Evolving Catalyst

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Department of Chemistry, 6-335, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139-4307, United States
Cite this: J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 14, 6326–6336
Publication Date (Web):March 6, 2012
https://doi.org/10.1021/ja3000084
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society
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Abstract

The mechanism of nucleation, steady-state growth, and repair is investigated for an oxygen evolving catalyst prepared by electrodeposition from Co2+ solutions in weakly basic electrolytes (Co-OEC). Potential step chronoamperometry and atomic force microscopy reveal that nucleation of Co-OEC is progressive and reaches a saturation surface coverage of ca. 70% on highly oriented pyrolytic graphite substrates. Steady-state electrodeposition of Co-OEC exhibits a Tafel slope approximately equal to 2.3 × RT/F. The electrochemical rate law exhibits a first order dependence on Co2+ and inverse orders on proton (third order) and proton acceptor, methylphosphonate (first order for 1.8 mM ≤ [MePi] ≤ 18 mM and second order dependence for 32 mM ≤ [MePi] ≤ 180 mM). These electrokinetic studies, combined with recent XAS studies of catalyst structure, suggest a mechanism for steady state growth at intermediate MePi concentration (1.8–18 mM) involving a rapid solution equilibrium between aquo Co(II) and Co(III) hydroxo species accompanied with a rapid surface equilibrium involving electrolyte dissociation and deprotonation of surface bound water. These equilibria are followed by a chemical rate-limiting step for incorporation of Co(III) into the growing cobaltate clusters comprising Co-OEC. At higher concentrations of MePi ([MePi] ≥ 32 mM), MePO32– equilibrium binding to Co(II) in solution is suggested by the kinetic data. Consistent with the disparate pH profiles for oxygen evolution electrocatalysis and catalyst formation, NMR-based quantification of catalyst dissolution as a function of pH demonstrates functional stability and repair at pH values >6 whereas catalyst corrosion prevails at lower pH values. These kinetic insights provide a basis for developing and operating functional water oxidation (photo)anodes under benign pH conditions.

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Full experimental details, additional nucleated growth traces, AFM images, Tafel plots, Koutecký–Levich plots, and NMR line broadening calibration curves. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at http://pubs.acs.org.

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