Journal article

Amorphous molybdenum sulfides as hydrogen evolution catalysts

Providing energy for a population projected to reach 9 billion people within the middle of this century is one of the most pressing societal issues. Burning fossil fuels at a rate and scale that satisfy our near-term demand will irreversibly damage the living environment. Among the various sources of alternative and CO2-emission-free energies, the sun is the only source that is capable of providing enough energy for the whole world. Sunlight energy, however, is intermittent and requires an efficient storage mechanism. Sunlight-driven water splitting to make hydrogen is widely considered as one of the most attractive methods for solar energy storage. Water splitting needs a hydrogen evolution catalyst to accelerate the rate of hydrogen production and to lower the energy loss in this process. Precious metals such as Pt are superior catalysts, but they are too expensive and scarce for large-scale applications. In this Account, we summarize our recent research on the preparation, characterization, and application of amorphous molybdenum sulfide catalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction. The catalysts can be synthesized by electrochemical deposition under ambient conditions from readily available and inexpensive precursors. The catalytic activity is among the highest for nonprecious catalysts. For example, at a loading of 0.2 mg/cm2, the optimal catalyst delivers a current density of 10 mA/cm2 at an overpotential of 160 mV. The growth mechanism of the electrochemically deposited film catalysts was revealed by an electrochemical quartz microcrystal balance study. While different electrochemical deposition methods produce films with different initial compositions, the active catalysts are the same and are identified as a “MoS2+x” species. The activity of the film catalysts can be further promoted by divalent Fe, Co, and Ni ions, and the origins of the promotional effects have been probed. Highly active amorphous molybdenum sulfide particles can also be prepared from simple wet-chemical routes. Electron transport is sometimes slow in the particle catalysts, and an impedance model has been established to identify this slow electron transport. Finally, the amorphous molybdenum sulfide film catalyst has been integrated onto a copper(I) oxide photocathode for photoelectrochemical hydrogen evolution. The conformal catalyst efficiently extracts the excited electrons to give an impressive photocurrent density of −5.7 mA/cm2 at 0 V vs RHE. The catalyst also confers good stability.

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