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Title: Stability and activity of titanium oxynitride thin films for the electrocatalytic reduction of nitrogen to ammonia at different pH values
The production of ammonia for agricultural and energy demands has accelerated research for more environmentally-friendly synthesis options, particularly the electrocatalytic reduction of molecular nitrogen (nitrogen reduction reaction, NRR). Catalyst activity for NRR, and selectivity for NRR over the competitive hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), are critical issues for which fundamental knowledge remains scarce. Herein, we present results regarding the NRR activity and selectivity of sputter-deposited titanium nitride and titanium oxynitride films for NRR and HER. Electrochemical, fluorescence and UV absorption measurements show that titanium oxynitride exhibits NRR activity under acidic conditions (pH 1.6, 3.2) but is inactive at pH 7. Ti oxynitride is HER inactive at all these pH values. In contrast, TiN – with no oxygen content upon deposition – is both NRR and HER inactive at all the above pH values. This difference in oxynitride/nitride reactivity is observed despite the fact that both films exhibit very similar surface chemical compositions – predominantly Ti IV oxide – upon exposure to ambient, as determined by ex situ X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). XPS, with in situ transfer between electrochemical and UHV environments, however, demonstrates that this Ti IV oxide top layer is unstable under acidic conditions, but stable at pH 7, explaining the inactivity of titanium oxynitride at this pH. The inactivity of TiN at acidic and neutral pH is explained by DFT-based calculations showing that N 2 adsorption at N-ligated Ti centers is energetically significantly less favorable than at O-ligated centers. These calculations also predict that N 2 will not bind to Ti IV centers due to a lack of π-backbonding. Ex situ XPS measurements and electrochemical probe measurements at pH 3.2 demonstrate that Ti oxynitride films undergo gradual dissolution under NRR conditions. The present results demonstrate that the long-term catalyst stability and maintenance of metal cations in intermediate oxidation states for pi-backbonding are critical issues worthy of further examination.  more » « less
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Journal Name:
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics
Page Range / eLocation ID:
19540 to 19552
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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