General rules for predicting where a catalytic reaction should occur on metal surfaces: a density functional theory study of C-H and C-O bond breaking/making on flat, stepped, and kinked metal surfaces

J Am Chem Soc. 2003 Feb 19;125(7):1958-67. doi: 10.1021/ja0207551.


To predict where a catalytic reaction should occur is a fundamental issue scientifically. Technologically, it is also important because it can facilitate the catalyst's design. However, to date, the understanding of this issue is rather limited. In this work, two types of reactions, CH(4) <--> CH(3) + H and CO <--> C + O on two transition metal surfaces, were chosen as model systems aiming to address in general where a catalytic reaction should occur. The dissociations of CH(4) --> CH(3) + H and CO --> C + O and their reverse reactions on flat, stepped, and kinked Rh and Pd surfaces were studied in detail. We find the following: First, for the CH(4) <--> Ch(3) + H reaction, the dissociation barrier is reduced by approximately 0.3 eV on steps and kinks as compared to that on flat surfaces. On the other hand, there is essentially no difference in barrier for the association reaction of CH(3) + H on the flat surfaces and the defects. Second, for the CO <--> C + O reaction, the dissociation barrier decreases dramatically (more than 0.8 eV on Rh and Pd) on steps and kinks as compared to that on flat surfaces. In contrast to the CH(3) + H reaction, the C + O association reaction also preferentially occurs on steps and kinks. We also present a detailed analysis of the reaction barriers in which each barrier is decomposed quantitatively into a local electronic effect and a geometrical effect. Our DFT calculations show that surface defects such as steps and kinks can largely facilitate bond breaking, while whether the surface defects could promote bond formation depends on the individual reaction as well as the particular metal. The physical origin of these trends is identified and discussed. On the basis of our results, we arrive at some simple rules with respect to where a reaction should occur: (i) defects such as steps are always favored for dissociation reactions as compared to flat surfaces; and (ii) the reaction site of the association reactions is largely related to the magnitude of the bonding competition effect, which is determined by the reactant and metal valency. Reactions with high valency reactants are more likely to occur on defects (more structure-sensitive), as compared to reactions with low valency reactants. Moreover, the reactions on late transition metals are more likely to proceed on defects than those on the early transition metals.