Comparing the performance of density functionals in describing the adsorption of atoms and small molecules on Ni(111)

Florian Göltl, Ellen A. Murray, Sean A. Tacey, Srinivas Rangarajan, Manos Mavrikakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Reaction networks calculated using density functional theory (DFT) play a crucial role in understanding and predicting heterogeneous catalyst performance. However, results obtained using different density functionals can vary significantly. Accordingly, it is important to assess the accuracy of available functionals in capturing adsorption energetics derived from single-crystal adsorption microcalorimetry experiments. Here, we evaluate how different density functionals describe the molecular and dissociative adsorption of CH3I, the adsorption of CH3, I, and H, and the dissociative adsorption of CH4 on Ni(111). First, we identify energetically-preferred adsorbed states for each adsorbate at three surface coverages and calculate the corresponding enthalpies of adsorption at 160 K. Then, we compare the results to experimental measurements published in the literature. For each adsorption process we find at least one functional that is quantitatively accurate within experimental error, but no functional is accurate (within experimental error) for all adsorption processes studied. Even when assuming an additional DFT error of ±20 kJ/mol on top of the experimental error, only the PBE-D3 and RPBE-D3 functionals are accurate for all considered adsorption systems. These results indicate that quantitative agreement between density functional theory calculations and experimental measurements is both system- and functional-dependent. Importantly, single-crystal adsorption microcalorimetry experiments will continue to play an important role for benchmarking density functionals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121675
JournalSurface Science
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Adsorption
  • Density functional theory
  • Dispersion corrections
  • Error estimation
  • Heat of adsorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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