Ni oxides and oxyhydroxides (NiOx) have been studied for a long time as cathode materials for alkaline batteries and electrocatalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER). Yet, understanding of the connection between their atomic and electronic structures and electrochemical performance or stability is still incomplete. In this work, we use first-principles density functional theory (DFT) calculations to revisit the structure, electronic properties, and OER activity of β-NiOOH, the catalytically active phase of NiOx. Following extensive DFT-based screening, we identify a hitherto overlooked structure characterized by a uniform distribution of H atoms on the NiO2 layers. All the Ni3+ cations in this structure exhibit an identical tg6eg1 electronic configuration with an occupied 3dz2 orbital. Comparison of the calculated bond lengths with extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) data unequivocally supports this structure relative to all other low-energy configurations. Based on this structure, we uncover and detail defect-dominated OER mechanisms on the basal β-NiOOH (001) surface, with overpotentials as low as 0.39 V. The present results should provide a valuable contribution to ongoing efforts for understanding and developing enhanced transition-metal hydroxide catalysts for the OER.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- energy conversion and storage
- first-principles calculations
- oxygen evolution reaction
- water splitting