Insights into proton-coupled electron transfer mechanisms of electrocatalytic H2 oxidation and production

Samantha Horvath, Laura E. Fernandez, Alexander V. Soudackov, Sharon Hammes-Schiffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


The design of molecular electrocatalysts for H2 oxidation and production is important for the development of alternative renewable energy sources that are abundant, inexpensive, and environmentally benign. Recently, nickel-based molecular electrocatalysts with pendant amines that act as proton relays for the nickel center were shown to effectively catalyze H2 oxidation and production. We developed a quantum mechanical approach for studying proton-coupled electron transfer processes in these types of molecular electrocatalysts. This theoretical approach is applied to a nickel-based catalyst in which phosphorous atoms are directly bonded to the nickel center, and nitrogen atoms of the ligand rings act as proton relays. The catalytic step of interest involves electron transfer between the nickel complex and the electrode as well as intramolecular proton transfer between the nickel and nitrogen atoms. This process can occur sequentially, with either the electron or proton transferring first, or concertedly, with the electron and proton transferring simultaneously without a stable intermediate. The electrochemical rate constants are calculated as functions of overpotential for the concerted electron-proton transfer reaction and the two electron transfer reactions in the sequential mechanisms. Our calculations illustrate that the concerted electron-proton transfer standard rate constant will increase as the equilibrium distance between the nickel and nitrogen atoms decreases and as the pendant amines become more flexible to facilitate the contraction of this distance with a lower energy penalty. This approach identifies the favored mechanisms under various experimental conditions and provides insight into the impact of substituents on the nitrogen and phosphorous atoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15663-15668
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 25 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Heterogeneous catalysis
  • Hydrogen evolution
  • PCET


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