Combining Nitrogen Precursors in Synthesis of Non-Precious Metal ORR Catalysts with Improved Fuel Cell Performance

Sunday, October 11, 2015: 10:00
Regency A (Hyatt Regency)
H. T. Chung, E. F. Holby (Los Alamos National Laboratory), G. M. Purdy (Los Alamos National Laboratory), S. Komini Babu (Carnegie Mellon University), S. Litster (Carnegie Mellon University), D. A. Cullen (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), K. L. More (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and P. Zelenay (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
Platinum and platinum-alloy oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts have been implemented in the prototype, and by now also in commercial fuel cell power systems for automotive applications, successfully meeting the demanding conditions of relatively low temperature (80°C) and high acidity operating conditions of the polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC). However, due to the high price of  Pt, the catalyst cost is projected to account for as much as a half of the total PEFC stack cost.1 In this context, the potential replacement of Pt-based catalysts, especially in the fuel cell cathode, with non-precious metal catalysts (NPMCs) is expected to significantly reduce PEFC stack cost. Achieving such a cost benefit is, however, contingent upon reaching sufficient activity and durability with NPMC for the ORR, a requirement that the electrocatalysis research community has been striving to meet. In this presentation, we expand upon the idea of combining nitrogen precursors during NPMC synthesis to improve the performance and performance durability of non-precious metal ORR catalysts.

Previously, we introduced a new non-precious metal ORR catalyst derived from two nitrogen precursors with different decomposition temperatures: easily decomposing cyanamide (CM) and more thermally stable polyaniline (PANI).2 In this approach, CM acts as an efficient pore-forming agent that allows for the formation of a highly porous structure, which in particular benefits the high-current response of the resulting electrocatalyst. Compared to the alternative approach utilizing metal-organic frameworks (MOFs),3,4 the use of cyanamide promises a very significant reduction in the NPMC cost, without sacrificing ORR activity.

In an effort to further improve the PEFC performance of the two nitrogen-precursor NPMCs, we have explored approaches involving the use of ammonia treatment, the addition of various carbon supports, and inclusion of multiple transition metals. In this presentation, we will summarize the results of these studies, which have involved the extensive use of characterization techniques, such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, scanning transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, surface area/pore distribution measurements, and nano-scale X-ray computed tomography. In the conclusion, we will also define critical factors for enhancing the performance of NPMCs in the PEFC cathode and outline directions for future research.


Financial support for this research by DOE-EERE through Fuel Cell Technologies Office is gratefully acknowledged. Microscopy research supported through a user project at ORNL’s Center for Nanomaterials Sciences, which is an Office of Science User Facility.


  1. Spendelow et al., DOE Fuel Cell Technologies Office, Fuel Cell System Cost-2013, (2013).
  2. Hoon T. Chung et al., “Combined nitrogen precursor approach to develop highly active non-precious metal oxygen reduction reaction catalyst.” in preparation.
  3. S. Ma et al., “Cobalt Imidazolate Framework as Precursor for Oxygen Reduction Reaction Electrocatalysts,” Chem. Eur. J. 17, 2063 (2011).
  4. Proietti et al., “Iron-based cathode catalyst with enhanced power density in polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells,” Nat. Commun. 2, 416 (2011)