Electrochemical Activation of Atomic Layer-Deposited Cobalt Phosphate Electrocatalysts for Water Oxidation

Ruoyu Zhang, Gerben van Straaten, Valerio Di Palma, Georgios Zafeiropoulos, Mauritius C.M. van de Sanden, Wilhelmus M.M. Kessels, Mihalis N. Tsampas (Corresponding author), Mariadriana Creatore (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


The development of efficient and stable earth-abundant water oxidation catalysts is vital for economically feasible water-splitting systems. Cobalt phosphate (CoPi)-based catalysts belong to the relevant class of nonprecious electrocatalysts studied for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER). In this work, an in-depth investigation of the electrochemical activation of CoPi-based electrocatalysts by cyclic voltammetry (CV) is presented. Atomic layer deposition (ALD) is adopted because it enables the synthesis of CoPi films with cobalt-to-phosphorous ratios between 1.4 and 1.9. It is shown that the pristine chemical composition of the CoPi film strongly influences its OER activity in the early stages of the activation process as well as after prolonged exposure to the electrolyte. The best performing CoPi catalyst, displaying a current density of 3.9 mA cm-2 at 1.8 V versus reversible hydrogen electrode and a Tafel slope of 155 mV/dec at pH 8.0, is selected for an in-depth study of the evolution of its electrochemical properties, chemical composition, and electrochemical active surface area (ECSA) during the activation process. Upon the increase of the number of CV cycles, the OER performance increases, in parallel with the development of a noncatalytic wave in the CV scan, which points out to the reversible oxidation of Co2+ species to Co3+ species. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and Rutherford backscattering measurements indicate that phosphorous progressively leaches out the CoPi film bulk upon prolonged exposure to the electrolyte. In parallel, the ECSA of the films increases by up to a factor of 40, depending on the initial stoichiometry. The ECSA of the activated CoPi films shows a universal linear correlation with the OER activity for the whole range of CoPi chemical composition. It can be concluded that the adoption of ALD in CoPi-based electrocatalysis enables, next to the well-established control over film growth and properties, to disclose the mechanisms behind the CoPi electrocatalyst activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2774-2785
Number of pages12
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2021


  • atomic layer deposition
  • catalyst restructuring
  • cobalt phosphate
  • electrochemical activation
  • oxygen evolution reaction


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