Ab Initio Thermodynamics of Iridium Surface Oxidation and Oxygen Evolution Reaction

Iridium-based materials are considered as state-of-the-art electrocatalysts for oxygen evolution reaction (OER), however, their stability and catalytic activity greatly depend on surface-state changes induced by electrochemical cycling. To better understand the behavior of the low-index Ir surfaces in an electrochemical environment, we perform a systematic thermodynamic analysis by means of the density functional theory (DFT) calculations. Based on computed surface energies of the Ir(111), (110) and (100) facets as a function of applied electrode potential and coverage of adsorbed water species we determine stability maps and predict equilibrium shapes of Ir nanoparticles. Our calculations also show that metastable oxide precursors formed at the initial stages of Ir surface oxidation are responsible for enhanced catalytic activity towards OER as compared to metal surfaces covered by oxygen adsorbates and thick-oxide films. Such enhancement occurs not only due to the modified thermodynamic stability of OER intermediates, but also because thin-oxide layers may display the more energetically favorable I2M (interaction of two M-O units) rather than WNA (water nucleophilic attack) OER mechanism.