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Acc Chem Res. 2017 May 16;50(5):1240-1247. doi: 10.1021/acs.accounts.7b00077. Epub 2017 May 2.

Kinetics of Electrocatalytic Reactions from First-Principles: A Critical Comparison with the Ab Initio Thermodynamics Approach.

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Physical Chemistry Department, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen , Heinrich-Buff-Ring 17, 35392 Giessen, Germany.
Institute of Electrochemistry, Ulm University , Albert-Einstein-Allee 47, 89069 Ulm, Germany.


Multielectron processes in electrochemistry require the stabilization of reaction intermediates (RI) at the electrode surface after every elementary reaction step. Accordingly, the bond strengths of these intermediates are important for assessing the catalytic performance of an electrode material. Current understanding of microscopic processes in modern electrocatalysis research is largely driven by theory, mostly based on ab initio thermodynamics considerations, where stable reaction intermediates at the electrode surface are identified, while the actual free energy barriers (or activation barriers) are ignored. This simple approach is popular in electrochemistry in that the researcher has a simple tool at hand in successfully searching for promising electrode materials. The ab initio TD approach allows for a rough but fast screening of the parameter space with low computational cost. However, ab initio thermodynamics is also frequently employed (often, even based on a single binding energy only) to comprehend on the activity and on the mechanism of an electrochemical reaction. The basic idea is that the activation barrier of an endergonic reaction step consists of a thermodynamic part and an additional kinetically determined barrier. Assuming that the activation barrier scales with thermodynamics (so-called Brønsted-Polanyi-Evans (BEP) relation) and the kinetic part of the barrier is small, ab initio thermodynamics may provide molecular insights into the electrochemical reaction kinetics. However, for many electrocatalytic reactions, these tacit assumptions are violated so that ab initio thermodynamics will lead to contradictions with both experimental data and ab initio kinetics. In this Account, we will discuss several electrochemical key reactions, including chlorine evolution (CER), oxygen evolution reaction (OER), and oxygen reduction (ORR), where ab initio kinetics data are available in order to critically compare the results with those derived from a simple ab initio thermodynamics treatment. We show that ab initio thermodynamics leads to erroneous conclusions about kinetic and mechanistic aspects for the CER over RuO2(110), while the kinetics of the OER over RuO2(110) and ORR over Pt(111) are reasonably well described. Microkinetics of an electrocatalyzed reaction is largely simplified by the quasi-equilibria of the RI preceding the rate-determining step (rds) with the reactants. Therefore, in ab initio kinetics the rate of an electrocatalyzed reaction is governed by the transition state (TS) with the highest free energy Grds#, defining also the rate-determining step (rds). Ab initio thermodynamics may be even more powerful, when using the highest free energy of an reaction intermediate Gmax(RI) rather than the highest free energy difference between consecutive reaction intermediates, ΔGloss, as a descriptor for the kinetics.

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