A universal principle for a rational design of single-atom electrocatalysts

Haoxiang Xu, Daojian Cheng, Dapeng Cao, Xiao Cheng Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1212 Scopus citations


Developing highly active single-atom catalysts for electrochemical reactions is a key to future renewable energy technology. Here we present a universal design principle to evaluate the activity of graphene-based single-atom catalysts towards the oxygen reduction, oxygen evolution and hydrogen evolution reactions. Our results indicate that the catalytic activity of single-atom catalysts is highly correlated with the local environment of the metal centre, namely its coordination number and electronegativity and the electronegativity of the nearest neighbour atoms, validated by available experimental data. More importantly, we reveal that this design principle can be extended to metal-macrocycle complexes. The principle not only offers a strategy to design highly active nonprecious metal single-atom catalysts with specific active centres, for example, Fe-pyridine/pyrrole-N4 for the oxygen reduction reaction; Co-pyrrole-N4 for the oxygen evolution reaction; and Mn-pyrrole-N4 for the hydrogen evolution reaction to replace precious Pt/Ir/Ru-based catalysts, but also suggests that macrocyclic metal complexes could be used as an alternative to graphene-based single-atom catalysts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-348
Number of pages10
JournalNature Catalysis
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Bioengineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Process Chemistry and Technology


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