Origin of Enhanced Water Oxidation Activity in an Iridium Single Atom Catalyst
The efficiency of the synthesis of renewable fuels and feedstocks from electrical sources is limited at present by the sluggish water oxidation reaction. Single atom catalysts (SACs) with a controllable coordination environment and exceptional atom utilization efficiency open new paradigms towards designing high performance water oxidation catalysts. Here, using operando X-ray absorption spectroscopy measurements with calculations of spectra and electrochemical activity, we demonstrate that the origin of water oxidation activity of IrNiFe SACs is the presence of highly oxidized Ir single atom (Ir5.3+) in the NiFe oxyhydroxide under operating conditions. We show that the optimal water oxidation catalyst could be achieved by systematically increasing the oxidation state and modulating the coordination environments of the Ir active sites anchored atop the NiFe oxyhydroxide layers. Based on the proposed mechanism, we have successfully anchored Ir single-atom sites on NiFe oxyhydroxides (Ir0.1/Ni9Fe SAC) via a unique in situ cryogenic photochemical reduction (in situ Cryo-PCR) method which delivers an overpotential of 183 millivolts at 10 milliamperes per square centimeter and retains its performance following 20 hours of operation in 1 M KOH electrolyte, outperforming the reported catalysts and the commercial IrO2 catalysts. These findings open the avenue towards atomic-level understanding of oxygen evolution of catalytic centers under in operando condition.