Ultrahigh-current-density niobium disulfide catalysts for hydrogen evolution

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Metallic transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs)1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 are good catalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER). The overpotential and Tafel slope values of metallic phases and edges9 of two-dimensional (2D) TMDs approach those of Pt. However, the overall current density of 2D TMD catalysts remains orders of magnitude lower (~10–100 mA cm−2) than industrial Pt and Ir electrolysers (>1,000 mA cm−2)10,11. Here, we report the synthesis of the metallic 2H phase of niobium disulfide with additional niobium (2H Nb1+xS2, where x is ~0.35)12 as a HER catalyst with current densities of >5,000 mA cm−2 at ~420 mV versus a reversible hydrogen electrode. We find the exchange current density at 0 V for 2H Nb1.35S2 to be ~0.8 mA cm−2, corresponding to a turnover frequency of ~0.2 s−1. We demonstrate an electrolyser based on a 2H Nb1+xS2 cathode that can generate current densities of 1,000 mA cm−2. Our theoretical results reveal that 2H Nb1+xS2 with Nb-terminated surface has free energy for hydrogen adsorption that is close to thermoneutral, facilitating HER. Therefore, 2H Nb1+xS2 could be a viable catalyst for practical electrolysers.

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Fig. 1: Images of Nb1+xS2 crystals and atomic structure.
Fig. 2: HER catalytic activities of different TMDs.
Fig. 3: Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, electrochemical stability of Nb1.35S2 and a proof-of-concept electrolyser demonstration.
Fig. 4: Thermodynamic stability and free-energy calculations for hydrogen evolution for the 2H Nb1.35S2 and 3R Nb1.35S2 phases.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.


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M.C. and J.Y. acknowledge financial support from AFOSR grant no. FA9550-16-1-0289. M.C. and Y.W. acknowledge support from NSF grant no. ECCS-1608389. M.C., W.Z. and X.S. acknowledge support from Shenzhen Peacock Plan (grant no. KQTD2016053112042971). M.C. and A.R.M. acknowledge financial support from the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia. H.Y.J. acknowledges support from Creative Materials Discovery Programme through the National Research Foundation of Korea (grant no. NRF-2016M3D1A1900035). E.J.G.S. acknowledges the use of computational resources from the UK National High-performance Computing Service (ARCHER) for which access was obtained via the UKCP consortium (EPSRC grant no. EP/K013564/1), and the UK Materials and Molecular Modelling Hub for access to the THOMAS supercluster, which is partially funded by EPSRC (grant no. EP/P020194/1). The Queen’s Fellow Award through grant no. M8407MPH, the Enabling Fund (grant no. A5047TSL) and the Department for the Economy (grant no. USI 097) are also acknowledged by E.J.G.S.

Author information

M.C. conceived the idea and supervised the project. J.Y. and A.R.M. designed the experiments with guidance from M.C. J.Y. performed the electrochemical measurements and analyses with advice from R.F. and D.V. A.R.M. synthesized the Nb1.35S2 samples and characterized them. Y.W. made the devices for the HER measurements and took the electrical measurements. X.S. and I.B. made the NbS2 samples and characterized them with the help of F.Z. and W.Z. H.Y.J. prepared the focused ion beam samples and performed the STEM analyses on the samples. M.A. and E.J.G.S. provided theoretical insight for the experimental results. M.C., H.Y.J., J.Y., D.V., R.F. and H.S.S. analysed the data. M.C. wrote the paper with J.Y. and all of the authors edited the manuscript before submission.

Correspondence to Elton J. G. Santos or Hu Young Jeong or Manish Chhowalla.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–13 and Supplementary Tables 1–8

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Yang, J., Mohmad, A.R., Wang, Y. et al. Ultrahigh-current-density niobium disulfide catalysts for hydrogen evolution. Nat. Mater. 18, 1309–1314 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41563-019-0463-8

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