In Situ Raman Spectroscopy of Copper and Copper Oxide Surfaces during Electrochemical Oxygen Evolution Reaction: Identification of CuIII Oxides as Catalytically Active Species

Scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, cyclic voltammetry, chronoamperometry, in situ Raman spectroscopy, and X-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy (XANES) were used to investigate the electrochemical oxygen evolution reaction (OER) on Cu, Cu2O, Cu­(OH)2, and CuO catalysts. Aqueous 0.1 M KOH was used as the electrolyte. All four catalysts were oxidized or converted to CuO and Cu­(OH)2 during a slow anodic sweep of cyclic voltammetry and exhibited similar activities for the OER. A Raman peak at 603 cm–1 appeared for all the four samples at OER-relevant potentials, ≥1.62 V vs RHE. This peak was identified as the Cu–O stretching vibration band of a CuIII oxide, a metastable species whose existence is dependent on the applied potential. Since this frequency matches well with that from a NaCuIIIO2 standard, we suggest that the chemical composition of the CuIII oxide is CuO2-like. The four catalysts, in stark contrast, did not oxidize the same way during direct chronoamperometry measurements at 1.7 V vs RHE. CuIII oxide was observed only on the CuO and Cu­(OH)2 electrodes. Interestingly, these two electrodes catalyzed the OER ∼10 times more efficiently than the Cu and Cu2O catalysts. By correlating the intensity of the Raman band of CuIII oxide and the extent of the OER activity, we propose that CuIII species provides catalytically active sites for the electrochemical water oxidation. The formation of CuIII oxides on CuO films during OER was also corroborated by in situ XANES measurements of the Cu K-edge. The catalytic role of CuIII oxide in the O2 evolution reaction is proposed and discussed.