Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Ge, Qingfeng


The price fluctuation and depletion of crude oil have led to the fervent interest in finding alternatives that can satisfy our increasing need for energy. In the past decades, two primary approaches are seen as promising ways to remedy our dependence on crude oil: first, the use of natural gas, primarily methane, to produce high-value hydrocarbons, and second, the use of ammonia as a hydrogen carrier. In this dissertation, we used density functional theory (DFT) calculation and kinetic modeling to investigate methane activation and C-C coupling on WC as well as the ammonia decomposition over the CoNi alloy surface. From our methane conversion project, we investigated the reactivity of W-terminated WC(0001) and WC(112 ̅0) surface toward methane activation and conversion to produce C2 moieties using DFT. We first calculate the intermediates binding energies and activation and reaction energies of methane dissociation. We found that WC(112 ̅0) is better at dissociating the first C–H bond than WC(0001). Our results also indicate that the surface is likely populated by (CH)ads species. The mobility of (CH)ads species on both surfaces allows the possibility of C-C coupling, resulting in a precursor for higher hydrocarbon formation. Our results also demonstrate that the WC(0001) surface favors the production of the (C2H2)ads species, whereas the WC(112 ̅0) surface dissociates CHx completely, resulting in coke formation. Thus, methane dissociates readily on the WC surfaces whereas the formation of the C2 species is sensitive to the surface structure. The DFT study on ammonia decomposition has been performed in close collaboration with the experimental study. A highly active catalyst consisting of CoNi alloy nanoparticles well-dispersed on a MgO–CeO2–SrO mixed oxide support with potassium promotion exhibited a performance matching that of the Ru-based catalysts. Extensive characterization in combination with the DFT results revealed that the CoNi alloy surface and metal/oxide interfaces are the active sites for catalytic decomposition of ammonia. Moreover, the much improved catalytic activity stems mainly from the presence of interface where the recombinative desorption of nitrogen has been greatly enhanced. These have been demonstrated by examining the detailed elementary steps of ammonia decomposition on the Co, Ni, Co2Ni, CoNi2 (111) surfaces and at the CeO2/Co2Ni interface. We calculated the binding energies of intermediates and the activation energies of each elementary step in ammonia decomposition. We found that on the Co, Ni, Co2Ni, CoNi2 surfaces, N–N bond formation is the rate-determining step, with the CoNi alloy surfaces having a lower activation energy than the pure metal surfaces. Over the CeO2/Co2Ni interface, however, N–H bond dissociation becomes rate-determining. The high catalytic activity at the CeO2/Co2Ni interface originates from the localized charge polarization due to alloying and the presence of the oxide which drastically facilitates N2* formation. We then integrated the DFT-calculated adsorption and activation energies in the microkinetic modeling of ammonia decomposition on the Co, Co2Ni, CoNi2, and Ni surfaces, focusing on the alloying effect. Two cases were investigated: ammonia decomposition in the 1) absence and 2) presence of product re-adsorption. In both cases, we determined the turnover frequencies, the apparent activation energies, the steady-state coverages, the degree of rate control, and the reaction orders. Our results show that in both cases, the alloys have higher catalytic performance than the pure metals. We also found that as the temperature increases, ammonia decomposition switches from being limited by N–N (and N–NH) bond formation to N–H bond dissociation. This change of mechanism is predicted to occur at lower temperatures on the alloy surfaces. In the case of hydrogen re-absorption, the surface H* adatom retards the last N–H bond-breaking step, resulting in the high coverage of NH* species on the surfaces, making N–NH coupling an alternative pathway for N2 formation. Furthermore, our microkinetic results show that alloying Ni with Co reduces the effect of hydrogen inhibition at high hydrogen partial pressures. In summary, this dissertation provides information for the design of efficient catalysts toward methane conversion and ammonia decomposition.




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