An Approach for Highly Porous Non-Precious Metal Catalyst Synthesis for Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell Cathodes

Monday, 25 May 2015: 14:00
Williford Room A (Hilton Chicago)
H. T. Chung, D. C. Higgins (Los Alamos National Laboratory), D. Kim (University of Calrifornia, Santa Barbara), G. Wu (University at Buffalo, SUNY), U. Tylus (Los Alamos National Laboratory), K. L. More, D. A. Cullen (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and P. Zelenay (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy into electricity for a variety of applications, the most notable of which is transportation. The integration of PEFCs at scale for transportation applications however has been hindered due to the high price of platinum (Pt) that is the state-of-the-art catalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) on the cathode. Replacing Pt with non-precious metal catalysts (NPMCs) synthesized from earth abundant elements (C, N, Fe, etc.) is therefore essential to deploy PEFCs for transportation applications.

Recently, many advances have been realized towards the development of NPMCs. One of the most important advances is the synthesis of highly porous (HP)-NPMCs. HP-NPMCs allow for improved active site accessibility as well as facilitated mass transport. This is especially important as the relatively low volumetric activity of NPMCs leads to a significantly larger electrode thickness for NPMCs in comparison to Pt/C catalysts, i.e., ca. 70 μm vs. 10 μm, respectively. Two main strategies that have been employed to achieve HP-NPMCs are the use of: (i) metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) [1] and (ii) template agents such as silica [2]. MOFs however are generally very expensive, with only very few commercially available, and a silica template approach requires using highly corrosive and hazardous reagents such as hydrofluoric acid for a silica template removal. These approaches are therefore far from ideal for efficient catalyst production.

In this work, we adopted a more proficient technique that uses combined nitrogen precursors. With this method, a lower decomposition temperature nitrogen precursor, cyanamide (CM), and higher decomposition temperature nitrogen precursor, polyanniline (PANI), are concurrently used. Under this circumstance, during heat-treatment, CM works as an efficient foaming agent. Indeed, we can synthesize HP-NPMCs with a microporous surface area of 1585 m2/g, and demonstrate record H2-air fuel cell performance (Fig. 1). In this talk, more detailed microscopic features and electrochemical and fuel cell performances of these HP-MPMCs will be presented.


Financial support for this has been provided by the DOE-EERE through the Fuel Cells Technologies Office.


  1. Proietti et al., Nat. Commun. 2, 416 (2011).
  2. Serov et al., Appl. Catal. B: Environmental, 127, 300 (2012).