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Computational approaches to dissociative chemisorption on metals: towards chemical accuracy

We review the state-of-the-art in the theory of dissociative chemisorption (DC) of small gas phase molecules on metal surfaces, which is important to modeling heterogeneous catalysis for practical reasons, and for achieving an understanding of the wealth of experimental information that exists for this topic, for fundamental reasons. We give a brief overview of the experimental state of the field, and a thorough overview of the theoretical state of the art.

Kroes, G.J.
30 March 2021

We address the challenge that barrier heights (Eb, which are not observables) for DC on metals cannot yet be calculated with chemical accuracy, although embedded correlated wave function theory and diffusion Monte-Carlo are moving in this direction. For benchmarking, at present chemically accurate Eb can only be derived from dynamics calculations based on a semi-empirically derived density functional (DF), by computing a sticking curve and demonstrating that it is shifted from the curve measured in a supersonic beam experiment by no more than 1 kcal/mol.

The approach capable of delivering this accuracy is called the specific reaction parameter (SRP) approach to density functional theory (DFT). SRP-DFT relies on DFT and on dynamics calculations, which are most efficiently performed if a potential energy surface (PES) is available. We therefore present a brief review of the DFs that now exist, also considering their performance on databases for Eb for gas phase reactions and DC on metals, and for adsorption to metals.

We also consider expressions for SRP-DFs and briefly discuss other electronic structure methods that have addressed the interaction of molecules with metal surfaces. An overview is presented of dynamical models, which make a distinction as to whether or not, and which dissipative channels are modeled, the dissipative channels involving surface phonons and electronically non-adiabatic channels such as electron–hole pair excitation. We also discuss the dynamical methods that have been used, such as the quasi-classical trajectory method and quantum dynamical methods like the time-dependent wave packet method and the reaction path Hamiltonian method. Limits on the accuracy of these methods are discussed for DC of diatomic and polyatomic molecules on metal surfaces, paying particular attention to reduced dimensionality approximations that still have to be invoked in wave packet calculations on polyatomic molecules like CH4.

We also address the accuracy of fitting methods, such as recent machine learning methods (like neural network methods) and the corrugation reducing procedure. In discussing the calculation of observables we emphasize the importance of modeling the properties of the supersonic beams in simulating the sticking probability curves measured in the associated experiments. We show that chemically accurate barrier heights have now been extracted for DC in 11 molecule–metal surface systems, some of which form the most accurate core of the only existing database of Eb for DC reactions on metal surfaces (SBH10). The SRP-DFs (or candidate SRP-DFs) that have been derived show transferability in many cases, i.e., they have been shown also to yield chemically accurate Eb for chemically related systems.

This can in principle be exploited in simulating rates of catalyzed reactions on nano-particles containing facets and edges, as SRP-DFs may be transferable among systems in which a molecule dissociates on low index and stepped surfaces of the same metal. In many instances SRP-DFs have allowed important conclusions regarding the mechanisms underlying observed experimental trends. An important recent observation is that SRP-DFT based on semi-local exchange DFs has so far only been successful for systems for which the difference of the metal work function and the molecule’s electron affinity exceeds 7 eV. A main challenge to SRP-DFT is to extend its applicability to the other systems, which involve a range of important DC reactions of e.g. O2, H2O, NH3, CO2, and CH3OH. Recent calculations employing a PES based on a screened hybrid exchange functional suggest that the road to success may be based on using exchange functionals of this category. 

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