Electronegative Phosphorus-Integrated Co2+ Active Sites for Enhanced Electrocatalytic Nitrogen Reduction

Inorg Chem. 2024 Apr 29;63(17):7886-7895. doi: 10.1021/acs.inorgchem.4c00618. Epub 2024 Apr 15.


In the quest for proficient electrocatalysts for ammonia's electrocatalytic nitrogen reduction, cobalt oxides, endowed with a rich d-electron reservoir, have emerged as frontrunners. Despite the previously evidenced prowess of CoO in this realm, its ammonia yield witnesses a pronounced decline as the reaction unfolds, a phenomenon linked to the electron attrition from its Co2+ active sites during electrocatalytic nitrogen reduction reaction (ENRR). To counteract this vulnerability, we harnessed electron-laden phosphorus (P) elements as dopants, aiming to recalibrate the electronic equilibrium of the pivotal Co active site, thereby bolstering both its catalytic performance and stability. Our empirical endeavors showcased the doped P-CoO's superior credentials: it delivered an impressive ammonia yield of 49.6 and, notably, a Faradaic efficiency (FE) of 9.6% at -0.2 V versus RHE, markedly eclipsing its undoped counterpart. Probing deeper, a suite of ex-situ techniques, complemented by rigorous theoretical evaluations, was deployed. This dual-pronged analysis unequivocally revealed CoO's propensity for an electron-driven valence metamorphosis to Co3+ post-ENRR. In stark contrast, P-CoO, fortified by P doping, exhibits a discernibly augmented ammonia yield. Crucially, P's intrinsic ability to staunch electron leakage from the active locus during ENRR ensures the preservation of the valence state, culminating in enhanced catalytic dynamism and fortitude. This investigation not only illuminates the intricacies of active site electronic modulation in ENRR but also charts a navigational beacon for further enhancements in this domain.