Finite Temperature Structures of Supported Subnanometer Catalysts Inferred via Statistical Learning and Genetic Algorithm-Based Optimization

Yifan Wang, Ya Qiong Su, Emiel J.M. Hensen (Corresponding author), Dionisios G. Vlachos (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Single-atom catalysts (SACs) minimize noble metal utilization and can alter the activity and selectivity of supported metal nanoparticles. However, the morphology of active centers, including single atoms and subnanometer clusters of a few atoms, remains elusive due to experimental challenges. The computational cost to describe numerous cluster shapes and sizes makes direct first-principles calculations impractical. We present a computational framework to enable structure determination for single-atom and subnanometer cluster catalysts. As a case study, we obtained the low-energy structures of Pdn (n = 1-21) clusters supported on CeO2(111), which are critical components of automobile three-way catalysts. Trained on density functional theory data, a three-dimensional cluster expansion is established using statistical learning to describe the Hamiltonian and predict energies of supported Pdn clusters of any structure. Low-energy stable and metastable structures are identified using a Metropolis Monte Carlo-based genetic algorithm in the canonical ensemble at 300 K. We observe that supported single atoms sinter to form bilayer clusters, and large cluster isomers share similarities in both shape and energy. The findings elucidate the significance of the support and microstructure on cluster stability. We discovered a simple surrogate structure-energy model, where the energy per atom scales with the square root of the average first coordination number, which can be used to estimate energies and compare the stability of clusters. Our framework, applicable to any metal/support system, fills an important methodological gap to predict the stability of supported metal catalysts in the subnanometer regime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13995-14007
Number of pages13
JournalACS Nano
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2020


  • catalyst structure
  • cluster expansion
  • genetic algorithm
  • single-atom catalysis
  • subnanometer catalysis


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