The reversibility of hydrogen sorption in complex hydrides has only been shown unambiguously for NaAlH4 doped with transition metal compounds. Despite a multitude of investigations of the effect of the added catalyst on the hydrogen sorption kinetics of NaAlH4, the mechanism of catalysis remains elusive so far. Following the decomposition of TiCl3-doped NaAlH4 by in-situ X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), we link the chemical state of the dopant with those of the hydride and decomposition products. Titanium and aluminium change their oxidation states during cycling. The change of the formal oxidation state of Al from III to zero is partly due to the chemical reaction from NaAlH4 to Al. Furthermore, aluminium oxide is formed (Al2O3), which coexists with titanium oxide (Ti2O3). The interplay of metallic and oxidized Ti with the oxide skin might explain the effectiveness of Ti and similar dopants (Ce, Zr...). (C) 2014 Author(s).