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Yanmei Zang, Qian Wu, Shuhua Wang, Baibiao Huang, Ying Dai*, Thomas Heine*, and Yandong Ma*
Unveiling Pseudo-Inert Basal Plane for Electrocatalysis in 2D Semiconductors: Critical Role of Reversal-Activation Mechanism
Adv. Energy Mater., online published
Date: Dec 26, 2023

Partially occupied orbitals play a pivotal role in enhancing the performance of electrocatalyst by facilitating electron acceptance and donation, thus enabling the activation of molecular bonds. According to this principle, the basal plane of most 2D semiconductors is inert for electrocatalysis because of the fully occupied orbitals at the surface. Here, taking monolayer CrX (X = P, As, Sb) and Cr2PY (Y = As, Sb) as examples and through first-principles calculations, it is revealed that even with fully occupied surface orbitals, the basal planes exhibit remarkable catalytic activity for the nitrogen oxide reduction reaction (NORR). This leads to the concept of the pseudo-inert electrocatalyst. The underlying physics behind such pseudo-inert character can be attributed to the reversal-activation mechanism: contrary to conventional expectations, the adsorbed NO molecule reversely triggers the activity of the inert basal plane first, and then the basal plane activates NO molecules, forming the intriguing “Reversal Activation-Transfer-Donation-Backdonation” process. This study further predicts that such pseudo-inert character can demonstrate many distinctive properties, for example, it can introduce a novel type of surface catalysis, one that selectively targets radicals possessing an inherent dipole moment such as NO. The explored phenomena and insights greatly enrich the realms of electrocatalysis and 2D materials.

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