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Atomistic Texture of Amorphous Manganese Oxides for Electrochemical Water Splitting Revealed by Ab Initio Calculations Combined with X‑ray Spectroscopy

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journal contribution
posted on 19.08.2015, 00:00 by Giuseppe Mattioli, Ivelina Zaharieva, Holger Dau, Leonardo Guidoni
Amorphous transition-metal (hydr)­oxides are considered as the most promising catalysts that promote the oxidation of water to molecular oxygen, protons, and “energized” electrons, and, in turn, as fundamental parts of “artificial leaves” that can be exploited for large scale generation of chemical fuels (e.g., hydrogen) directly from sunlight. We present here a joint theoretical–experimental investigation of electrodeposited amorphous manganese oxides with different catalytic activities toward water oxidation (MnCats). Combining the information content of X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) measurements with the predictive power of ab initio calculations based on density functional theory, we have been able to identify the essential structural and electronic properties of MnCats. We have elucidated (i) the localization and structural connection of Mn­(II), Mn­(III), and Mn­(IV) ions in such amorphous oxides and (ii) the distribution of protons at the MnCat/water interface. Our calculations result in realistic 3D models of the MnCat atomistic texture, formed by the interconnection of small planar Mn-oxo sheets cross-linked through different kinds of defective Mn atoms, isolated or arranged in closed cubane-like units. Essential for the catalytic activity is the presence of undercoordinated Mn­(III)­O5 units located at the boundary of the amorphous network, where they are ready to act as hole traps that trigger the oxidation of neighboring water molecules when the catalyst is exposed to an external positive potential. The present validation of a sound 3D model of MnCat improves the accuracy of XAFS fits and opens the way for the development of mechanistic schemes of its functioning beyond a speculative level.