Synthesis of IV-VI Transition Metal Carbide and Nitride Nanoparticles Using a Reactive Mesoporous Template for Electrochemical Hydrogen Evolution Reaction

  • Nawal Saad Alhajri

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Interstitial carbides and nitrides of early transition metals in Groups IV-VI exhibit platinum-like behavior which makes them a promising candidate to replace noble metals in a wide variety of reactions. Most synthetic methods used to prepare these materials lead to bulk or micron size powder which limits their use in reactions in particular in catalytic applications. Attempts toward the production of transition metal carbide and nitride nanoparticles in a sustainable, simple and cheap manner have been rapidly increasing. In this thesis, a new approach was presented to prepare nano-scale transition metal carbides and nitrides of group IV-VI with a size as small as 3 nm through the reaction of transition metal precursor with mesoporous graphitic carbon nitride (mpg-C3N4) that not only provides confined spaces for nanoparticles formation but also acts as a chemical source of nitrogen and carbon. The produced nanoparticles were characterized by powder X-ray diffraction (XRD), temperature-programmed reaction with mass spectroscopy (MS), CHN elemental analyses, thermogravimetric analyses (TGA), nitrogen sorption, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The effects of the reaction temperature, the ratio of the transition metal precursor to the reactive template (mpg-C3N4), and the selection of the carrier gas (Ar, N2, and NH3) on the resultant crystal phases and structures were investigated. The results indicated that different tantalum phases with cubic structure, TaN, Ta2CN, and TaC, can be formed under a flow of nitrogen by changing the reaction temperatures. Two forms of tantalum nitride, namely TaN and Ta3N5, were selectively formed under N2 and NH3 flow, respectively. Significantly, the formation of TaC, Ta2CN, and TaN can be controlled by altering the weight ratio of the C3N4 template relative to the Ta precursor at 1573 K under a flow of nitrogen where high C3N4/Ta precursor ratio generally resulted in high carbide content rather than nitride. In addition, the reactivity of the transition metals of group IV-VI with the reactive template was investigated under a flow of N2 at different temperatures in the range of 1023 to 1573 K while keeping the weight ratio constant at 1:1. The results show that Ti, V, Nb, Ta, and Cr reacted with mpg-C3N4 at 1023 K to form nitride phase with face centered cubic structure. The nitride phase destabilized at higher temperature ≥1223 K through the reaction with the remaining carbon residue originated from the decomposition of the template to form carbonitride and carbide phases. Whereas, Mo and W produce a hexagonal structure of carbide irrespective of the applying reaction temperature. The tendency to form transition metal nitrides and carbides at 1023 K was strongly driven by the free energy of formation. The observed trend indicates that the free energy of formation of nitride is relatively lower for group IV and V transition metals, whereas the carbide phase is thermodynamically more favorable for group VI, in particular for Mo and W. The thermal stability of nitride decreases at high temperature due to the evolution of nitrogen gas. The electrocatalytic activities of the produced nanoparticles were tested for hydrogen evolution reaction in acid media and the results demonstrated that molybdenum carbide nanoparticles exhibited the highest HER current with over potential of 100 mV vs. RHE, among the samples prepared in this study. This result is attributed to the sufficiently small particle size (8 nm on average) and accordingly high surface area (308 m2 g-1). Also, the graphitized carbon layer with a thickness of 1 nm on its surface formed by this synthesis provides excellent electron pathway to the catalyst which will improve the rate of electron transfer reaction.
Date of AwardJan 2016
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorKazuhiro Takanabe (Supervisor)


  • carbide
  • nitride
  • transition metal
  • nanoparticles
  • hydrogen evolution
  • C3N4

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