Direct observation of active catalyst surface phases and the effect of dynamic self-optimization in NiFe-layered double hydroxides for alkaline water splitting†
Earth-abundant transition metal-based compounds are of high interest as catalysts for sustainable hydrogen fuel generation. The realization of effective electrolysis of water, however, is still limited by the requirement of a high sustainable driving potential above thermodynamic requirements. Here, we report dynamically self-optimized (DSO) NiFe layered double hydroxide (LDH) nanosheets with promising bi-functional performance. Compared with pristine NiFe LDH, DSO NiFe LDH exhibits much lower overpotential for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), even outperforming platinum. Under 1 M KOH aqueous electrolyte, the bi-functional DSO catalysts show an overpotential of 184 and −59 mV without iR compensation for oxygen evolution reaction (OER) and HER at 10 mA cm−2. The material system operates at 1.48 V and 1.29 V to reach 10 and 1 mA cm−2 in two-electrode measurements, corresponding to 83% and 95% electricity-to-fuel conversion efficiency with respect to the lower heating value of hydrogen. The material is seen to dynamically reform the active phase of the surface layer during HER and OER, where the pristine and activated catalysts are analyzed with ex situ XPS, SAED and EELS as well as with in situ Raman spectro-electrochemistry. The results show transformation into different active interfacial species during OER and HER, revealing a synergistic interplay between iron and nickel in facilitating water electrolysis.