Theoretical Insights into Methane C–H Bond Activation on Alkaline Metal Oxides

Hassan Aljama, Jens K. Nørskov, Frank Abild-Pedersen
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Journal of Physical Chemistry C

In this work, we investigate the role of alkaline metal oxides (AMO) (MgO, CaO, and SrO) in activating the C–H bond in methane. We use Density Functional Theory (DFT) and microkinetic modeling to study the catalytic elementary steps in breaking the C–H bond in methane and creating the methyl radical, a precursor prior to creating C2 products. We study the effects of surface geometry on the catalytic activity of AMO by examining terrace and step sites. We observe that the process of activating methane depends strongly on the structure of the AMO. When the AMO surface is doped with an alkali metal, the transition state (TS) structure has a methyl radical-like behavior, where the methyl radical interacts weakly with the AMO surface. In this case, the TS energy scales with the hydrogen binding energy. On pure AMO, the TS interacts with AMO surface oxygen as well as the metal atom on the surface, and consequently the TS energy scales with the binding energy of hydrogen and methyl. We study the activity of AMO using a mean-field microkinetic model. The results indicate that terrace sites have similar catalytic activity, with the exception of MgO(100). Step sites bind hydrogen more strongly, making them more active, and this confirms previously reported experimental results. We map the catalytic activity of AMO using a volcano plot with two descriptors: the methyl and the hydrogen binding energies, with the latter being a more significant descriptor. The microkinetic model results suggest that C–H bond dissociation is not always the rate-limiting step. At weak hydrogen binding, the reaction is limited by C–H bond activation. At strong hydrogen binding, the reaction is limited due to poisoning of the active site. We found an increase in activity of AMO as the basicity increased. Finally, the developed microkinetic model allows screening for improved catalysts using simple calculations of the hydrogen binding energy.

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