Single-atom nickel dopants anchored to three-dimensional nanoporous graphene can be used as catalysts of the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in acidic solutions. In contrast to conventional nickel-based catalysts and graphene, this material shows superior HER catalysis with a low overpotential of approximately 50 mV and a Tafel slope of 45 mV dec-1 in 0.5 M H2SO4 solution, together with excellent cycling stability. Experimental and theoretical investigations suggest that the unusual catalytic performance of this catalyst is due to sp-d orbital charge transfer between the Ni dopants and the surrounding carbon atoms. The resultant local structure with empty C-Ni hybrid orbitals is catalytically active and electrochemically stable.
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