Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Mason, Sara E

First Committee Member

Cheatum, Christopher M

Second Committee Member

Young, Mark A

Third Committee Member

Haes, Amanda J

Fourth Committee Member

Nguyen, Hien M


Density functional theory (DFT) has become the most widely used first-principles computational method to simulate different atomic, molecular, and solid phase systems based on electron density assumptions. The complexity of describing a many-body system has been significantly reduced in DFT. However, it also brings in potential error when dealing with a system that involves the interactions between metallic and non-metallic species. DFT tends to overly-delocalize the electrons in metallic species and sometimes results in the overestimation of reaction energy, metallic properties in insulators, and predicts relative surface stabilities incorrectly in some instances.

There are two approaches to overcoming the failure of DFT using standard exchange-correlation functionals: One can either use a higher level of theory (and thus incur a greater computational cost) or one can apply an efficient correction scheme. However, inaccurate corrections and improper calculation models can also lead to more errors. In the beginning of this dissertation, we introduce the correction methods we developed to accurately model the structure and electron density in material surfaces; then we apply the new methods in surface reactivity studies under experimental conditions to rationalize and solve real life problems.

We first investigate the post-DFT correction method in predicting the chemisorption energy (Echem) of a NO molecule on transition metal surfaces. We show that DFT systematically enhances back-donation in NO/metal chemistorption from the metal d-band to NO 2π* orbital, and relate the back-donation charge transfer to the promotion of an electron from the 5σ orbital to the 2π* orbital in the gas-phase NO G2Σ-←X2Π excitation. We establish linear relationships between Echem and ΔEG←X and formulate an Echem correction scheme to the (111) surfaces of Pt, Pd, Rh and Ir.

As a precursor to further optimization of DFT corrections on transition metal oxide surfaces, we systematically compare the alumina (α-Al2O3) and hematite (α-Fe2O3) (0001) surfaces to study how the atomic positions treatment during geometry optimizations would affect the electronic structure and modeled reactivity, since they are often reported to have a minimal effect. Our results suggest that both can vary significantly in quantitative and qualitative ways between partially constrained or fully relaxed slab models.

We continue to use the α-Fe2O3 (0001) surfaces to optimize the Hubbard U method implemented in DFT that determines the Coulomb repulsion correction (Ud) to localize Fe d-electrons. It successfully restores the insulating properties of bulk hematite, but underestimates the stability of the oxygen-terminated surface. It is mainly due to the fact that all the chemically distinct surface Fe atoms were treated the same way. Here we develop a linear response technique to derive specific Ud values for all Fe atoms in several slab geometries. We also find that in a strongly correlated system, the O p-orbitals also need the Hubbard correction (Up) to accurately predict the structural and electronic properties of bulk hematite. Our results show that the site-specific Ud, combined with Up as Ud+p, is crucial in obtaining theoretical results for surface stability that are congruent with the experimental literature results of α-Fe2O3 (0001) surface structure.

Besides methodology development, we continue to apply our specific Ud+p method in the engineered application of the Chemical Looping Combustion (CLC) process in which transition metal oxides play the role of oxidizing fuel molecules for full CO2 capture. Current molecular dynamic studies use partially constrained surface models to simulate the CH4 reaction on hematite surfaces without the detailed comparison of the early stage adsorption products. Here we use hematite (α-Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4) surfaces as analogous to systematically study the early adsorption products of CH4. Our results show that the reaction favors the homolytic pathway on O-terminated surface, and that as a reduced form of hematite, the magnetite surface also shows excellent reactivity on CH4 dissociation.

Knowing how to simulate DFT surface model properly we continue to enrich our theoretical methods for more complicated systems under aqueous conditions. We focus on various structures of the lithium-ion battery material, LiCoO2 (LCO) (001) surface, involving hydroxyl groups. We assess the relative stabilities of different surface configurations using a thermodynamic framework, and a second approach using a surface-solvent ion exchange model. We find that for both models the –CoO–H1/2 surface is the most stable structure near the O-rich limit, which corresponds to ambient conditions. We also found that this surface has nonequivalent surface geometry with the stoichiometric –CoO–Li1/2 surface, leading to distinct band structures and surface charge distributions. We go on to probe how those differences affect the surface reactivity in phosphate anion adsorption.

All of the work presented in this dissertation reveals the importance of accurately modeled material structures in theoretical studies to achieve correct physical properties and surface reactivity predictions. We hope our DFT correction schemes can continue to contribute to future surface studies and experimental measurements, and to enlighten new ideas in future DFT methodology improvements.

Public Abstract

Materials made from transition metal oxides are everywhere in our lives from energy storage in electronic products to the efficient catalysts in industry. Those materials continue to interact with the environment after being disposed and further affect our health. Therefore, the material design and optimization have become a huge issue. To achieve better product performance and reduce the potential environmental impact, molecular-level understanding based on theoretical modeling of the material properties and the surface reactivity are crucial. However, due to the increasing chemical complexity and dimensionality of the materials, it has become more and more difficult to balance the computational time and accuracy, especially for those made from transition metal oxides where metal species have two groups of electrons with distinct behaviors. However, the main assumptions in the widely used computational methodology tend to treat the electrons in the same way when interacting with non-metal species, which results in incorrect property predictions, such as making an insulator metallic.

Here we develop new methods to correct the current computational tools to achieve more accurate descriptions for the electrons in the transition metal oxides, reproducing experimental physical properties and surface stability predictions for those materials. We use hematite (α-Fe2O3) surfaces as subject to test the new method, and then use it for the study of the engineered application of fossil fuel combustion; then we extend our method to involve aqueous conditions for the surface adsorption study of the lithium-ion battery material, LiCoO2 (LCO) surfaces.


Computational Chemistry, Density Functional Theory, Environmental Applications, Heterogeneous Catalysis, Surface Modeling, Surface Reactivity


xxiii, 205 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 193-205).


Copyright © 2017 Xu Huang

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