Characterisation of non-uniform functional surfaces: towards linking basic surface properties with electrocatalytic activity†
Functional materials, particularly heterogeneous catalysts, are often non-uniform at a microscopic level making their detailed characterisation extremely complex. This complexity inhibits the design and implementation of novel functional materials as such characterisation is a key to understanding interfaces for heterogeneous catalysis. We demonstrate that a combination of Scanning Kelvin Probe (SKP) and Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy (SECM) experiments made over the same sample surface using an integrated SKP–SECM system provides a powerful and robust tool to link basic surface properties with the observed electrocatalytic activity. As the SKP-response can be accurately assessed using modern quantum chemical approaches to benchmark analytical signals for different surface structures with varying compositions, application of an integrated SKP–SECM system can offer valuable insight into the origin of the observed electrocatalytic activity. As model objects, we used Pt(111)-like thin films modified with sub-monolayer and monolayer amounts of Cu atoms located at the electrode surface and in the sub-surface region. The exact position of the Cu atoms relative to the topmost Pt layer greatly affects basic surface properties and governs the electrocatalytic activity of the surface towards various reactions, i.e. the oxygen reduction reaction. SKP–SECM appeared to be a very sensitive tool to monitor those changes as a function of the spatial coordinates.