Mechanical work makes important contributions to surface chemistry at steps
The effect of mechanical strain on the binding energy of adsorbates to late transition metals is believed to be entirely controlled by electronic factors, with tensile stress inducing stronger binding. Here we show, via computation, that mechanical strain of late transition metals can modify binding at stepped surfaces opposite to well-established trends on flat surfaces. The mechanism driving the trend is mechanical, arising from the relaxation of stored mechanical energy. The mechanical energy change can be larger than, and of opposite sign than, the energy changes due to electronic effects and leads to a violation of trends predicted by the widely accepted electronic 'd-band' model. This trend has a direct impact on catalytic activity, which is demonstrated here for methanation, where biaxial tension is predicted to shift the activity of nickel significantly, reaching the peak of the volcano plot and comparable to cobalt and ruthenium.