A quantum-chemical study of the CO dissociation mechanism on low-index Miller planes of ϴ-Fe 3 C

Robin J.P. Broos, Bart Klumpers, Bart Zijlstra, Ivo A.W. Filot, Emiel J.M. Hensen (Corresponding author)

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Spin-polarized density functional theory was employed to determine the preferred CO bond dissociation mechanism on low-index Miller surfaces of ϴ-Fe 3 C in the context of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Compared to the most reactive (111) surface of bcc-Fe on which CO binds in a 7-fold coordination, CO prefers to locate in 3-fold or 4-fold sites on the carburized surfaces due to the presence of interstitial C atoms at or below the surface. An important finding is that the lowest activation energies for direct CO bond dissociation are associated with the presence of step-like sites, similar to the case of metallic surfaces. We could identify such sites for 3 out of the 9 investigated surfaces, namely the (111), 11¯1, and (010) terminations of ϴ-Fe 3 C. On the other hand, H-assisted CO dissociation is preferred on the 01¯1, (001), and (100) surfaces. The other (011), (110), and (101) surfaces are inert with CO dissociation barriers close to or exceeding the CO adsorption energy. A kinetic analysis shows that the (111) surface (direct CO dissociation) and the (01¯1) surface (H-assisted CO dissociation via HCO) display comparable CO bond dissociation rates, much higher than the rates computed for the other surfaces. Together these two surfaces make up ca. 28% of the surface enclosing a Wulff nanoparticle of ϴ-Fe 3 C. Using an atomic population analysis, we show that the activation barrier for C-O bond dissociation correlates well with the bond order of adsorbed CO. This implies that pre-activation of CO is important for lowering the overall activation barrier. The present work demonstrates that the high-temperature ϴ-Fe 3 C phase is highly active towards CO bond dissociation, which is the essential first step in the Fischer-Tropsch reaction. Several of the exposed surfaces present lower overall CO dissociation barriers than α-Fe (known to be unstable under Fischer-Tropsch conditions) and the χ-carbide of Fe (usually assumed to be the most stable phase of Fe-carbide under Fischer-Tropsch conditions). Notably, the activity of the (111) surface is higher than that of a stepped cobalt surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-160
Number of pages9
JournalCatalysis Today
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2020


  • CO dissociation
  • density functional theory
  • Fischer-Tropsch synthesis
  • mechanism
  • theta-Fe C
  • theta-Fe3C


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