First principles calculations, electro catalysis, photo catalysis, oxygen reduction reaction


The main objective of this work is to gain basis for rational design of catalysts used in fuel cells for conversion of chemical energy stored in hydrogen molecules into electric energy, as well as photo-catalysts used for hydrogen production from water under solar irradiation. This objective is achieved by applying the first principles computational approach to reveal relationship among compositions of materials under consideration, their electronic structure and catalytic activity. A major part of the work is focused on electro-catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells. Platinum (Pt) is widely used in the electrodes of fuel cells due to its good catalytic properties. However, Pt is an expensive and scarce element, its catalytic activity is not optimal and also it suffers from CO poisoning at anode. Therefore the search for new catalytic materials is needed for large scale implementation of fuel cells. The main direction of search of more efficient electro-catalysts is based in the design in which an active element monoatomic layer (AE) is deposited on a metal substrate (MS) made of a cost-effective material. Two goals are achieved by doing this: on the one hand, the cost of the catalytic system is reduced by reducing the amount of the AE in the system and on the other hand the catalytic properties of the AE can be tuned through its interactions with the MS. In the first part of this work the Pd-based alloys and layered structures have been studied as promising electro-catalysts for the ORR on the fuel cell cathodes, more precisely Pd-Co alloys and Pd/M/Pd (M=Co,Fe). There exists a robust model linking the activity of a surface toward ORR to computable thermodynamic properties of the system and further to the binding energies iv of the ORR intermediates on the catalyst surface. A more challenging task is to find how to tune these binding energies through modification of the surface electronic structure that can be achieved by varying the surface composition and/or morphology. To resolve this challenge, the electronic structure, binding energies of intermediates and the ORR free energies have been calculated within the density functional theory (DFT) approximation. The results presented in this work show that in contrast to the widely accepted notion, the strain exerted by a substrate on AE hardly affects the surface activity toward ORR, while the hybridization of the electronic states of the AE-and MS-electronic states is the key factor controlling the catalytic properties of these systems. Next it is shown that the catalytic activity of the promising anode electrocatalysts, such as Pt/M, M=Au, Ru and Pd, is also determined by the AE-MS hybridization with a minor effect of the strain. Furthermore, we have shown that, if AE is weakly bound to the substrate (as it is for Pt/Au), surface reconstruction occurs. This leads to the breaking of the relation between the electronic structure of the clean surface and the reactivity of the sytem. Other kind of promising ORR catalysts is designed in the form of Ru nanoparticles modified by chalcogens. In this work, I present the results obtained for small Ru clusters and flat Ru facets modified with chalcogens (S, Se and Te). The O and OH binding energies are chosen as descriptors of the ORR. The results on the two systems are compared, concluding that large clusters with relative large flat facets have higher catalytic activity due to the absence of low coordinated and thus high reactive Ru atoms. Regarding the problem of the hydrogen production via photo-catalytic splitting of water, one of the challenges is tuning the band gap of the photo-anodes to optimal levels. Graphitic carbon nitride (g-C3N4) is a promising material to be used as a photo-anode, however, a v reduction of the band gap width by rational doping of the material would improve the efficiency significantly. This issue is addressed in the last chapter of this work. Two problems are considered: a) the stability of the doped system and b) the band gap width. To address the first problem the ab-initio thermodynamics approach has been used, finding that the substitution of C and N with the doping agent (B, C, N, O, Si and P) is thermodynamically preferred over the interstitial addition of dopant to the g-C3N4 structure. However, due to high kinetic energy barriers for the detachment of C and N atoms, involved in the substitution doping, the interstitial addition found to be kinetically more favorable. Since the density functional theory fails to reproduce the band gap of semiconductors correctly, the GW approximation was used to study the band gap of the system. The results indicate that the g-C3N4 system maintain its semiconductor character if doped with B, O and P under certain conditions, while reducing the band gap.


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Graduation Date





Stolbov, Sergey


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

February 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

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