Graphene-Based Electrocatalysts to Boost Electrocatalytic Reduction of Oxygen in Bioelectrochemical Systems

Thursday, 1 June 2017: 17:40
Churchill C1 (Hilton New Orleans Riverside)
B. Mecheri, V. C. A. Ficca, M. A. Costa de Oliveira, A. D'Epifanio (University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy), E. Placidi (CNR-ISM, Italy, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy), F. Arciprete, and S. Licoccia (University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy)
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) can be considered as an efficient and flexible platform for integrated waste treatment and energy recovery [1]. The extensive research work devoted to this technology over the past decade demonstrates the promising outlook of MFCs, but practical application is still limited by the high costs associated to the materials used for device assembly, such as cathode materials which accounts for over 50% of the overall MFC capital cost. The sluggish kinetics of oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) has led to the use of expensive catalysts, such as platinum, which is not suitable to be applied to sustainable technologies. Hence, a great variety of materials have been developed for MFC cathodes, including nitrogen-doped activated carbons and non platinum group metal catalysts. Such materials allow achieving ORR rate comparable to Pt, the morphology and structure of the catalysts playing an important role on the efficiency and durability of ORR active sites [2,3]. The development of new carbon nanostructures with highly tunable morphology and structure has led to the use of graphene for several applications, including as component for MFC cathodes [4,5]. However, challenges, such as complexity in synthesis and costs, still limit the applicability of graphene as cathode component of MFCs. Therefore, a facile and efficient approach to develop graphene based catalysts can be considered a promising direction to achieve sustainable wastewater treatment and bioenergy production by BESs.

In this work, we report a facile method for large-scale preparation of ORR catalysts based on graphene oxide (GO) obtained by electrochemical oxidation of graphite in aqueous solutions of inorganic salts. We developed different strategies to include nitrogen functionalities in GO structure, including post treatments based on annealing with ammonia gas and one-step nitrogen-doping of GO. By combining the use of atomic force microscopy with electrochemical and spectroscopic techniques, we correlated the different morphology and surface chemistry of GO with catalytic activity towards ORR. Differences in catalytic activity obtained by supporting iron on GO surface were also elucidated, investigating the nature of ORR active sites. The applicability of GO-based materials as ORR cathodes of MFCs was evaluated by assembling single chamber air-cathodes MFCs operating with sodium acetate in phosphate buffer solution. Coulombic efficiency, polarization and power density curves, and voltage generation cycles over time were acquired. The body of results demonstrated the potential ability of GO electrocatalysts to substitute platinum for ORR in MFCs.


The present work was carried out with the support of the “European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme” (under H2020-FTIPilot-2015-1, Grant Agreement n. 720367-GREENERNET), the University of Rome Tor Vergata (under the Research Call “Consolidate the Foundations”, project name: BEST WATER), and CNPq - Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, Brazil.


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