Small transition metal clusters like those of copper exhibit unique size and morphology dependent catalytic activity.1-4 Abundant potentially exploitable reserves of methane exists on the earth and thus, its conversion to fuels, useful chemicals and materials is a pertinent challenge.5 The search for alternate minimum energy pathways and catalysts to transform methane to useful chemicals and carbon nanomaterials led us to investigate Collision Induced Dissociation (CID)6,7 of methane on small Cu clusters. Car Parrinello molecular dynamics8 and metadynamics9 simulations were performed to investigate the collision induced dissociation and coupling of methane on small Cu clusters (Cun where n=2 to 12) and the free energy barriers were computed. The collision induced activation of the stretching and bending vibrations of methane significantly reduces the free energy barrier for its dissociation. Electron Localisation Function (ELF)10 topology analysis11 suggests that increase in the copper cluster size and order of dimension, increases the delocalisation of electron density within the cluster and makes more number of sites available for the chemisorption of CH3 and H upon dissociation. The formation of a collision complex, which we refer to as ‘precursor’, allows methane and the cluster to sample relevant vibrational states of methane and lattice configurations of the cluster. This enables higher probability of favourable alignment of the C-H stretching vibration of methane towards regions of high electron density within the cluster. These characteristics contribute in lowering the free energy barrier for dissociation of methane. Severe distortion of the cluster geometry and lattice reorganisation due to high temperature collision dynamics disturbs electron delocalisation within them and increases the barrier for dissociation. Complete dehydrogenation of methane to carbon on these clusters has extremely high barriers and the barrier increases with increase in cluster size. Coupling reactions of CHx (x=1 to3) species and recombination of H with CHx have free energy barriers significantly lower than complete dehydrogenation of methane. Thus, competition favours the coupling and recombination reactions at high hydrogen saturation on the clusters.
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