Unified mechanism of hydrogen trapping at metal vacancies

Interaction between hydrogen (H) and metals is central to many materials problems of scientific and technological importance. H segregation or trapping at lattice defects plays a crucial role in determining the properties of these materials. Through first-principles simulations, we propose a unified mechanism involving charge transfer associated strain destabilization to understand H segregation behavior at vacancies. We discover that H prefers to occupy interstitials with high pre-existing charge densities and the availability of such interstitials sets the limit on H trapping capacity at a vacancy. Once the maximum H capacity is reached, the dominant charge donors switch from the nearest-neighbor (NN) to the next-nearest-neighbor (NNN) metal atoms. Accompanying with this long-range charge transfer, the sharply increased reorganization energy would occur, leading to the instability of the H-vacancy complex. The physical picture unveiled here appears universal across the BCC series and is believed to be relevant to other metals/defects as well.