(Invited) High-Performance PGM-Free Electrocatalysts for the Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell Cathode

Tuesday, 30 May 2017: 13:30
Grand Salon B - Section 9 (Hilton New Orleans Riverside)
X. Yin, H. T. Chung, L. Lin, G. M. Purdy, U. Martinez, and P. Zelenay (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
The activity of oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts often determine performance of polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) as measured by their power output, open circuit voltage, and fuel conversion efficiency. Currently, Pt-nanoparticle catalysts, either supported on high surface-area carbons or prepared in a form of contiguous thin layer on conductive or non-conductive supports, represent the state of the art in ORR electrocatalysis at the PEFC cathode. However, the high and variable price and scarceness of Pt have limited its widespread implementation in the -temperature fuel cells to date, especially in automotive transportation. Under these circumstances, platinum group metal-free (PGM-free) ORR catalysts have received growing attention in recent years as a possible replacement for Pt-based formulations. The progress achieved since the development of the first nature-inspired electrocatalysts of oxygen reduction in the seminal work by Jasinski in the 1960s (Nature 201, 1212, 1964), which mostly happened through the broad implementation of the high-temperature synthesis approach, makes replacement of Pt in ORR electrocatalysts with earth-abundant elements, such as Fe, Co, N, and C, a realistic possibility.

In this this presentation, we will summarize recent progress in research targeting development of high-performance PGM-free catalysts for oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Two approaches will be discussed in a greater detail: (i) the approach involving fine-tuning of the catalyst porosity and surface area using pore-forming compounds and (ii) the method specifically focusing on the development of atomically dispersed transition metal moieties and avoiding the formation of transition metal-rich nanoparticles during the heat treatment of catalyst precursors. We will demonstrate the impact that porosity/surface area optimization, through the use of either pore formers (cyanamide, ZnCl2) precursor templating (metal organic frameworks) or both, can have on the fuel cell performance of PGM-free catalysts. We will also show how modifications to the electrode structure through the change in the ionomer content and ionomer equivalent weight can lead to substantial improvements in the fuel cell performance at both low- and high current densities (aerial power density of more than 0.50 W/cm2 in H2-air testing at 80°C).

Finally, we will recapitulate the challenges still facing PGM-free research that, in spite of all the progress achieved in recent years, is yet to produce materials capable of competing with the incumbent Pt-based catalysts in terms of oxygen reduction activity, performance durability, and cost (specifically, when extended to the overall cost of a fuel cell stack).


Financial support for this research by DOE-EERE through Fuel Cell Technologies Office is gratefully acknowledged.