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Hydrogen Evolution on Restructured B-Rich WB: Metastable Surface States and Isolated Active Sites


Borides have been recently identified to be a class of earth-abundant and low-cost materials that are surprisingly active toward oxidative dehydrogenation and hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) catalysis. Here, we explain from first-principles calculations the HER activity of WB, an industrial material known for its superior physical properties and chemical inertness. We find that, compared to bulk termination, a major surface reconstruction takes place, leading to the off-stoichiometric B-rich surface termination that contains the active sites. The hydrogen adsorbate configurations are further investigated under various adsorbate coverages. Many competing configurations appear to be accessible in reaction conditions, and thus, a grand canonical ensemble is established to describe the catalytic system. A phase diagram of adsorbate coverages is constructed as a function of pH and the applied potential. A complex reaction network is presented based on the ensemble-averaged reaction rates, and the electrocatalytic activities are evaluated under different overpotentials. The major contributors to the activity are found to be a few metastable surface states with a distinct electronic structure that are only accessible at high adsorbate coverages in reaction conditions. In addition, while the activity of the dominant active site is nearly the same as that on the unreconstructed WB, the B-rich formations play an important role of isolating the active sites and preventing the passivation of the surface with H2 bubble formation.

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