Climbing the Volcano of Electrocatalytic Activity while Avoiding Catalyst Corrosion: Ni3P, a Hydrogen Evolution Electrocatalyst Stable in Both Acid and Alkali

Anders B. Laursen, Robert B. Wexler, Marianna J. Whitaker, Edward J. Izett, Karin U.D. Calvinho, Shinjae Hwang, Ross Rucker, Hao Wang, Jing Li, Eric Garfunkel, Martha Greenblatt, Andrew M. Rappe, G. Charles Dismukes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


We report microcrystalline Ni3P as a noble-metal-free electrocatalyst for the H2 evolution reaction (HER) with high activity just below those of Ni5P4 and Pt, the two most efficient HER catalysts known. Ni3P has previously been dismissed for the HER, owing to its anticipated corrosion and its low activity when formed as an impurity in amorphous alloys. We observe higher activity of single-phase Ni3P crystallites than for other nickel phosphides (except Ni5P4) in acid, high corrosion tolerance in acid, and zero corrosion in alkali. We compare its electrocatalytic performance, corrosion stability, and intrinsic turnover rate to those of different transition-metal phosphides. Electrochemical studies reveal that poisoning of surface Ni sites does not block the HER, indicating P as the active site. Using density functional theory (DFT), we analyze the thermodynamic stability of Ni3P and compare it to experiments. DFT calculations predict that surface reconstruction of Ni3P (001) strongly favors P enrichment of the Ni4P4 termination and that the H adsorption energy depends strongly on the surface reconstruction, thus revealing a potential synthetic lever for tuning HER catalytic activity. A particular P-enriched reconstructed surface on Ni3P(001) is predicted to be the most stable surface termination at intermediate P content, as well as providing the most active surface site at low overpotentials. The P adatoms present on this reconstructed surface are more active for HER at low overpotentials in comparison to any of the sites investigated on other terminations of Ni3P(001), as they possess nearly thermoneutral H adsorption. To our knowledge this is the first time reconstructed surfaces of transition-metal phosphides have been identified as having the most active surface site, with such good agreement with the experimentally observed catalytic current onset and Tafel slope. The active site geometry achieved through reconstruction identified in this work shows great similarity to that reported for Ni2P(0001) and Ni5P4(0001) facets, serving as a general design principle for the future development of even more active transition-metal phosphide catalysts and further climbing the volcano plot.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4408-4419
Number of pages12
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 4 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)


  • HER
  • electrocatalysis
  • energy storage
  • hydrogen evolution
  • renewable energy
  • water splitting


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