Nucleation, Growth, and Repair of a Cobalt-Based Oxygen Evolving Catalyst

The mechanism of nucleation, steady-state growth, and repair is investigated for an oxygen evolving catalyst prepared by electrodeposition from Co<sup>2+</sup> solutions in weakly basic electrolytes (Co-OEC). Potential step chronoamperometry and atomic force microscopy reveal that nucleation of Co-OEC is progressive and reaches a saturation surface coverage of ca. 70% on highly oriented pyrolytic graphite substrates. Steady-state electrodeposition of Co-OEC exhibits a Tafel slope approximately equal to 2.3 × <i>RT</i>/<i>F</i>. The electrochemical rate law exhibits a first order dependence on Co<sup>2+</sup> and inverse orders on proton (third order) and proton acceptor, methylphosphonate (first order for 1.8 mM ≤ [MeP<sub>i</sub>] ≤ 18 mM and second order dependence for 32 mM ≤ [MeP<sub>i</sub>] ≤ 180 mM). These electrokinetic studies, combined with recent XAS studies of catalyst structure, suggest a mechanism for steady state growth at intermediate MeP<sub>i</sub> concentration (1.8–18 mM) involving a rapid solution equilibrium between aquo Co­(II) and Co­(III) hydroxo species accompanied with a rapid surface equilibrium involving electrolyte dissociation and deprotonation of surface bound water. These equilibria are followed by a chemical rate-limiting step for incorporation of Co­(III) into the growing cobaltate clusters comprising Co-OEC. At higher concentrations of MeP<sub>i</sub> ([MeP<sub>i</sub>] ≥ 32 mM), MePO<sub>3</sub><sup>2–</sup> equilibrium binding to Co­(II) in solution is suggested by the kinetic data. Consistent with the disparate pH profiles for oxygen evolution electrocatalysis and catalyst formation, NMR-based quantification of catalyst dissolution as a function of pH demonstrates functional stability and repair at pH values >6 whereas catalyst corrosion prevails at lower pH values. These kinetic insights provide a basis for developing and operating functional water oxidation (photo)­anodes under benign pH conditions.