Activity and selectivity are both important issues in heterogeneous catalysis and recent experimental results have shown that Ni catalysts doped by gold exhibit high activity for the hydrogenation of acetylene with good selectivity of ethylene formation. To unravel the underlying mechanism for this observation, the general trend of activity and selectivity of Ni surfaces doped by Au, Ag, and Cu has been investigated using density functional theory calculations. Complete energy profiles from C2H2 to C2H4 on Ni(111), Au/Ni(111), Ag/Ni(111) and Cu/Ni(111) are obtained and their turnover frequencies (TOFs) are computed. The results show that acetylene adsorption on Ni catalyst is strong which leads to the low activity while the doping of Au, Ag, and Cu on the Ni catalyst weakens the acetylene adsorption, giving rise to the increase of activity. The selectivity of ethylene formation is also quantified by using the energy difference between the hydrogenation barriers and the absolute value of the adsorption energies of ethylene. It is found that the selectivity of ethylene formation increases by doping Au and Ag, while those of Cu/Ni and Ni are similar.
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