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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