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Alloy catalysts designed from first principles


The rational design of pure and alloy metal catalysts from fundamental principles has the potential to yield catalysts of greatly improved activity and selectivity. A promising area of research concerns the role that near-surface alloys (NSAs) can play in endowing surfaces with novel catalytic properties. NSAs are defined as alloys wherein a solute metal is present near the surface of a host metal in concentrations different from the bulk; here we use density functional theory calculations to introduce a new class of these alloys that can yield superior catalytic behaviour for hydrogen-related reactions. Some of these NSAs bind atomic hydrogen (H) as weakly as the noble metals (Cu, Au) while, at the same time, dissociating H2 much more easily. This unique set of properties may permit these alloys to serve as low-temperature, highly selective catalysts for pharmaceuticals production and as robust fuel-cell anodes.

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Figure 1: Stability of NSAs with respect to hydrogen-induced segregation.
Figure 2: Hydrogen binding energies (BEH) on various close-packed surfaces.
Figure 3: Correlation of the binding energy of atomic hydrogen, BEH, with properties of the clean NSA surfaces.
Figure 4: Transition-state (ETS) energy versus hydrogen binding energy for H2 dissociation on pure noble metals and NSAs.


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NSF supported this work through a pre-doctoral fellowship (J.G.) and a CAREER award (M.M.). Additional partial support was provided by a DOE-BES Catalysis Science Grant. Calculations were made on DOE-NERSC, NPACI and MSCF-PNNL resources. We thank A. Gokhale, M.-S. Han, A. Nilekar and Y. Xu for their help, and F. Besenbacher, J. Chen, J. Dumesic and J. Nørskov for discussions.

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Correspondence to Manos Mavrikakis.

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Greeley, J., Mavrikakis, M. Alloy catalysts designed from first principles. Nature Mater 3, 810–815 (2004).

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