Electrochemical ammonia synthesis could provide a sustainable and efficient alternative to the energy intensive Haber-Bosch process. Development of an active and selective N2 electroreduction catalyst requires mechanism determination to aid in connecting the catalyst composition and structure to performance. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations are used to examine the elementary step energetics of associative N2 reduction mechanisms on two low index Fe surfaces. Interfacial water molecules in the Heyrovsky-like mechanism help lower some of the elementary activation barriers. Electrode potential dependent barriers show that cathodic potentials below -1.5 V-RHE (reversible hydrogen electrode) are necessary to give a significant rate of N2 electroreduction. DFT barriers suggest a larger overpotential than expected based on elementary reaction free energies. Linear Brønsted-Evans-Polanyi relationships do not hold across N-H formation steps on these surfaces, further confirming that explicit barriers should be considered in DFT studies of the nitrogen reduction reaction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry