Comparison between functionalized graphitic materials and protoporphyrins
A worldwide spread of clean technologies such as low-temperature fuel cells and electrolyzers depends strictly on their technical reliability and economic affordability. Currently, both conditions are hardly fulfilled mainly due to the same reason: the oxygen electrode, which has large overpotentials and is made of precious materials. A possible solution is the use of non-noble electrocatalysts with single-metal active sites. Here, on the basis of DFT calculations of adsorbed intermediates and a thermodynamic analysis, we compare the oxygen reduction (ORR) and evolution (OER) activities of functionalized graphitic materials and gas-phase porphyrins with late transition metals. We find that both kinds of materials follow approximately the same activity trends, and active sites with transition metals from groups 7 to 9 may be good ORR and OER electrocatalysts. However, spin analyses show more flexibility in the possible oxidation states of the metal atoms in solid electrocatalysts, while in porphyrins they must be +2. These observations reveal that the catalytic activity of these materials is mainly due to nearest-neighbor interactions. Based on this, we propose that this class of electrocatalysts may be improved by careful selections of the support and the ligand properties close to the active sites and/or the ramifications near them, so that charge is transferred back and forth during adsorption and selective hydrogen bonds are formed.