• XL Hu, S Piccinin, A Laio, S Fabris,
    Atomistic Structure of Cobalt-Phosphate Nanoparticles for Catalytic Water Oxidation
    ACS NANO, 6, 10497 (2012)
    Solar-driven water splitting is a key photochemical reaction that underpins the feasible and sustainable production of solar fuels. An amorphous cobalt-phosphate catalyst (Co-Pi) based on earth-abundant elements has been recently reported to efficiently promote water oxidation to protons and dioxygen, a main bottleneck for the overall process. The structure of this material remains largely unknown. We here exploit ab initio and classical atomistic simulations combined with metadynamics to build a realistic and statistically meaningful model of Co-Pi nanoparticles. We demonstrate the emergence and stability of molecular-size ordered crystallites in nanoparticles initially formed by a disordered Co-O network and phosphate groups. The stable crystallites consist of bis-oxo-bridged Co centers that assemble into layered structures (edge-sharing CoO6 octahedra) as well as in corner- and face-sharing cubane units. These layered and cubane motifs coexist in the crystallites, which always incorporate disordered phosphate groups at the edges. Our computational nanoparticles, although limited in size to similar to 1 nm, can contain more than one crystallite and incorporate up to 18 Co centers in the cubane/layered structures. The crystallites are structurally stable up to high temperatures. We simulate the extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) of our nanoparticles. Those containing several complete and incomplete cubane motifs which are believed to be essential for the catalytic activity-display a very good agreement with the experimental EXAFS spectra of Co-Pi grains. We propose that the crystallites in our nanoparticles are reliable structural models of the Co-Pi catalyst surface. They will be useful to reveal the origin of the catalytic efficiency of these novel water-oxidation catalysts. Piccinin, Simone/D-3609-2009; Fabris, Stefano/B-6907-2008