Faculty Advisor

N. Aaron Deskins


Current ethanol oxidation catalysts in direct ethanol fuel cells (typically platinum-based) suffer from low conversion and are susceptible to CO poisoning. Therefore we determined to find viable alternative catalysts for ethanol oxidation based on iridium using density functional theory to model bimetallic alloy (111) surfaces. Iridium was alloyed with another transition metals M in an overlayer (one layer of metal M on top of bulk iridium) or subsurface configuration (M is inserted under the first layer of iridium). Complete oxidation of ethanol is limited by the breaking of strong C-C bonds, so any catalyst must lower the barriers for C-C bond breaking. We modeled the reaction CH+CO →CHCO.Segregation energies were calculated and the subsurface configuration was the most stable configuration in the vast majority of alloy cases. CO adsorption was also studied and a lower CO adsorption energy was found in many alloy cases compared to pure Pt (, providing encouraging results about the possibility of reducing CO poisoning. Activation energies were lowered for the vast majority of the alloys used in an underlayer structure, reinforcing our interest in the underlayer structures or “subsurfaceâ€� alloys. Finally, we found, based on the CO adsorption energies, activation energies of the C-C breakage reaction, and metal cost, three important catalyst descriptors, a number of promising catalysts for the ethanol oxidation reaction. The most interesting alloys all adopted the underlayer structure Ir/M/Ir. With M = Ta, Hf, Nb, V, Zr, they demonstrated enhanced reactivity and high CO tolerance, having the advantage of reducing the cost of the catalyst, potentially substituting expensive platinum group metals by more affordable components.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





anode catalyst, CP2K, iridium, catalysis, ethanol fuel cell, DFT theory