Reaction Intermediates during Operando Electrocatalysis Identified from Full Solvent Quantum Mechanics Molecular Dynamics
Tao Cheng1,2,3, Alessandro Fortunelli3,4, and William A. Goddard III1,2,*
1 Institute of Functional Nano & Soft Materials (FUNSOM), Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Carbon-Based Functional Materials & Devices, Joint International Research Laboratory of Carbon-Based Functional Materials and Devices, Soochow University, Suzhou, 215123, Jiangsu, PR China;
2 Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125;
3 Materials and Process Simulation Center, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125;
4 Italian National Council for Research–Institute for the Chemistry of Organo Metallic Compounds, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pisa 56124, Italy
Electrocatalysis provides a powerful means to selectively transform molecules, but a serious impediment in making rapid progress is the lack of a molecular-based understanding of the reactive mechanisms or intermediates at the electrode–electrolyte interface (EEI). Recent experimental techniques have been developed for operando identification of reaction intermediates using surface infrared (IR) and Raman spectroscopy. However, large noises in the experimental spectrum pose great challenges in resolving the atomistic structures of reactive intermediates. To provide an interpretation of these experimental studies and target for additional studies, we report the results from quantum mechanics molecular dynamics (QM-MD) with explicit consideration of solvent, electrode–electrolyte interface, and applied potential at 298 K, which conceptually resemble the operando experimental condition, leading to a prototype of operando QMMD (o-QM-MD). With o-QM-MD, we characterize 22 possible reactive intermediates in carbon dioxide reduction reactions (CO2RRs). Furthermore, we report the vibrational density of states (v-DoSs) of these intermediates from two-phase thermodynamic (2PT) analysis. Accordingly, we identify important intermediates such as chemisorbed CO2 (b-CO2), *HOC-COH, *C-CH, and *C-COH in our o-QM-MD likely to explain the experimental spectrum. Indeed, we assign the experimental peak at 1,191 cm-1 to the mode of C-O stretch in *HOC-COH predicted at 1,189 cm-1 and the experimental peak at 1,584 cm-1 to the mode of C-C stretch in *C-COD predicted at 1,581 cm-1. Interestingly, we find that surface ketene (*C=C=O), arising from *HOC-COH dehydration, also shows signals at around 1,584 cm-1, which indicates a nonelectrochemical pathway of hydrocarbon formation at low overpotential and high pH conditions.