Acta Phys. -Chim. Sin. ›› 2019, Vol. 35 ›› Issue (5): 523-530.doi: 10.3866/PKU.WHXB201806191

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Molybdenum Carbide Prepared by a Salt Sealing Approach as an Electrocatalyst for Enhanced Hydrogen Evolution Reaction

Zhou LIN,Linfan SHEN,Ximing QU,Junming ZHANG,Yanxia JIANG*(),Shigang SUN   

  • Received:2018-04-11 Published:2018-10-19
  • Contact: Yanxia JIANG
  • Supported by:
    the National Key Research and Development Program of China(2017YFA0206500);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(21773198);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(U1705253)


Molybdenum carbide is regarded as an excellent substitute for Pt-based catalysts in the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), owing to its low cost, superior catalytic performance, and long-term stability. In this work, salt-sealed molybdenum carbide was prepared using sodium molybdate and 2, 6-diaminopyridine as the reactive raw materials, followed by continuous salt sealing and calcination of the precursor under an inert atmosphere. The morphology, composition and structure of salt-sealed molybdenum carbide were determined by scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). The results indicate that salt-sealed molybdenum carbide has irregular morphology and includes nanoparticles and nanorods. A comparison of the TEM images of Mo2C with salt sealing (Mo2C/SS) and Mo2C without salt sealing (Mo2C) indicates that Mo2C/SS exhibits a smaller particle size. This suggests that salt sealing can efficiently avoid particle aggregation. The Brunauer-Emmett- Teller (BET) specific surface area of the catalysts was obtained from nitrogen adsorption/desorption isotherms. The increase in BET surface area from 2.55 to 8.14 m2·g−1 after salt sealing provides evidence for the formation of pores in the product. The results of XRD, EDS and XPS analyses show that Mo2C/SS has an orthorhombic crystal structure with molybdenum oxides on the surface, which may originate from surface oxidation. Considering the results of XPS and the turnover frequency (TOF) calculation, we can conclude that the formation of pores via salt sealing contributes to the exposure of more active sites, while simultaneously enlarging the contact area with oxygen. Therefore, higher molybdenum oxide content is generated on the surface, resulting in a lower proportion of active centers (molybdenum carbides) on the catalyst surface. Furthermore, the pseudocapacitance generated by the faradaic reaction of molybdenum oxides is superimposed on the double-layer capacitance of Mo2C catalysts, which increases the double layer capacitance. Since the effect of pseudo-capacitance on Mo2C/SS is more significant, the TOF number declines after salt sealing. Compared with Mo2C, Mo2C/SS exhibits three features that promote HER mass activity: (1) the generation of large quantities of pores via salt sealing leads to an increase in the BET surface area and exposure of more active sites, which is beneficial for improving HER performance; (2) the porous structure and enlarged surface area pave the way for effective mass and charge transfer; (3) the decrease of the Tafel slope from 145 to 88 mV·dec−1. In summary, salt-sealed Mo2C exhibited enhanced HER activity with an overpotential of 175 mV to achieve a current density of 10 mA·cm−2. The Tafel slope for HER on salt-sealed Mo2C is 88 mV·dec−1. This can be considered as the proof of the Volmer-Heyrovsky mechanism with electrochemical desorption as the rate-determining step.

Key words: Molybdenum carbide, Hydrogen evolution reaction, Salt sealing, Active site, Electrocatalysis