Quantifying the impact of vibrational nonequilibrium in plasma catalysis: insights from a molecular dynamics model of dissociative chemisorption

KM Bal and EC Neyts, JOURNAL OF PHYSICS D-APPLIED PHYSICS, 54, 394004 (2021).

DOI: 10.1088/1361-6463/ac113a

The rate, selectivity and efficiency of plasma-based conversion processes is strongly affected by nonequilibrium phenomena. High concentrations of vibrationally excited molecules are such a plasma- induced effect. It is frequently assumed that vibrationally excited molecules are important in plasma catalysis because their presence lowers the apparent activation energy of dissociative chemisorption reactions and thus increases the conversion rate. A detailed atomic- level understanding of vibrationally stimulated catalytic reactions in the context of plasma catalysis is however lacking. Here, we couple a recently developed statistical model of a plasma-induced vibrational nonequilibrium to molecular dynamics simulations, enhanced sampling methods, and machine learning techniques. We quantify the impact of a vibrational nonequilibrium on the dissociative chemisorption barrier of H-2 and CH4 on nickel catalysts over a wide range of vibrational temperatures. We investigate the effect of surface structure and compare the role of different vibrational modes of methane in the dissociation process. For low vibrational temperatures, very high vibrational efficacies are found, and energy in bend vibrations appears to dominate the dissociation of methane. The relative impact of vibrational nonequilibrium is much higher on terrace sites than on surface steps. We then show how our simulations can help to interpret recent experimental results, and suggest new paths to a better understanding of plasma catalysis.

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