skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on March 29, 2023

Title: A completely precious metal–free alkaline fuel cell with enhanced performance using a carbon-coated nickel anode
Alkaline fuel cells enable the use of earth-abundant elements to replace Pt but are hindered by the sluggish kinetics of the hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR) in alkaline media. Precious metal–free HOR electrocatalysts need to overcome two major challenges: their low intrinsic activity from too strong a hydrogen-binding energy and poor durability due to rapid passivation from metal oxide formation. Here, we designed a Ni-based electrocatalyst with a 2-nm nitrogen-doped carbon shell (Ni@CN x ) that serves as a protection layer and significantly enhances HOR kinetics. A Ni@CN x anode, paired with a Co−Mn spinel cathode, exhibited a record peak power density of over 200 mW/cm 2 in a completely precious metal–free alkaline membrane fuel cell. Ni@CN x exhibited superior durability when compared to a Ni nanoparticle catalyst due to the enhanced oxidation resistance provided by the CN x layer. Density functional theory calculations suggest that graphitic carbon layers on the surface of the Ni nanoparticles lower the H binding energy to Ni, bringing it closer to the previously predicted value for optimal HOR activity, and single Ni atoms anchored to pyridinic or pyrrolic N defects of graphene can serve as the HOR active sites. The strategy described here marks a more » milestone in electrocatalyst design for low-cost hydrogen fuel cells and other energy technologies with completely precious metal–free electrocatalysts. « less
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Designing efficient electrocatalysts has been one of the primary goals for water electrolysis, which is one of the most promising routes towards sustainable energy generation from renewable sources. In this article, we have tried to expand the family of transition metal chalcogenide based highly efficient OER electrocatalysts by investigating nickel telluride, Ni 3 Te 2 as a catalyst for the first time. Interestingly Ni 3 Te 2 electrodeposited on a GC electrode showed very low onset potential and overpotential at 10 mA cm −2 (180 mV), which is the lowest in the series of chalcogenides with similar stoichiometry, Ni 3more »E 2 (E = S, Se, Te) as well as Ni-oxides. This observation falls in line with the hypothesis that increasing the covalency around the transition metal center enhances catalytic activity. Such a hypothesis has been previously validated in oxide-based electrocatalysts by creating anion vacancies. However, this is the first instance where this hypothesis has been convincingly validated in the chalcogenide series. The operational stability of the Ni 3 Te 2 electrocatalyst surface during the OER for an extended period of time in alkaline medium was confirmed through surface-sensitive analytical techniques such as XPS, as well as electrochemical methods which showed that the telluride surface did not undergo any corrosion, degradation, or compositional change. More importantly we have compared the catalyst activation step (Ni 2+ → Ni 3+ oxidation) in the chalcogenide series, through electrochemical cyclic voltammetry studies, and have shown that catalyst activation occurs at lower applied potential as the electronegativity of the anion decreases. From DFT calculations we have also shown that the hydroxyl attachment energy is more favorable on the Ni 3 Te 2 surface compared to the Ni-oxide, confirming the enhanced catalytic activity of the telluride. Ni 3 Te 2 also exhibited efficient HER catalytic activity in alkaline medium making it a very effective bifunctional catalyst for full water splitting with a cell voltage of 1.66 V at 10 mA cm −2 . It should be noted here that this is the first report of OER and HER activity in the family of Ni-tellurides.« less
  2. Water splitting has been widely considered to be an efficient way to generate sustainable and renewable energy resources in fuel cells, metal–air batteries and other energy conversion devices. Exploring efficient electrocatalysts to expedite the anodic oxygen evolution reaction (OER) is a crucial task that needs to be addressed in order to boost the practical application of water splitting. Intensive efforts have been devoted to develop mixed transition metal based chalcogenides as effective OER electrocatalysts. Herein, we have reported synthesis of a series of mixed metal selenides containing Co, Ni and Cu employing combinatorial electrodeposition, and systematically investigated how the transitionmore »metal doping affects the OER catalytic activity in alkaline medium. Energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) was performed to detect the elemental compositions and confirm the feasibility of compositional control of 66 metal selenide thin films. It was observed that the OER catalytic activity is sensitive to the concentration of Cu in the catalysts, and the catalyst activity tended to increase with increasing Cu concentration. However, increasing the Cu concentration beyond a certain limit led to decrease in catalytic efficiency, and copper selenide by itself, although catalytically active, showed higher onset potential and overpotential for OER compared to the ternary and quaternary mixed metal selenides. Interestingly, the best quaternary composition (Co 0.21 Ni 0.25 Cu 0.54 ) 3 Se 2 showed similar crystal structure as its parent compound of Cu 3 Se 2 with slight decrease in lattice spacings of (101) and (210) lattice planes (0.0222 Å and 0.0148 Å, respectively) evident from the powder X-ray diffraction pattern. (Co 0.21 Ni 0.25 Cu 0.54 ) 3 Se 2 thin film exhibited excellent OER catalytic activity and required an overpotential of 272 mV to reach a current density of 10 mA cm −2 , which is 54 mV lower than Cu 3 Se 2 , indicating a synergistic effect of transition metal doping in enhancing catalytic activity.« less
  3. Electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen fuel is an attractive renewable energy storage technology. However, grid-scale freshwater electrolysis would put a heavy strain on vital water resources. Developing cheap electrocatalysts and electrodes that can sustain seawater splitting without chloride corrosion could address the water scarcity issue. Here we present a multilayer anode consisting of a nickel–iron hydroxide (NiFe) electrocatalyst layer uniformly coated on a nickel sulfide (NiSx) layer formed on porous Ni foam (NiFe/NiSx-Ni), affording superior catalytic activity and corrosion resistance in solar-driven alkaline seawater electrolysis operating at industrially required current densities (0.4 to 1 A/cm2) over 1,000 h. Amore »continuous, highly oxygen evolution reaction-active NiFe electrocatalyst layer drawing anodic currents toward water oxidation and an in situ-generated polyatomic sulfate and carbonate-rich passivating layers formed in the anode are responsible for chloride repelling and superior corrosion resistance of the salty-water-splitting anode.

    « less
  4. The urea oxidation reaction (UOR) is a possible solution to solve the world’s energy crisis. Fuel cells have been used in the UOR to generate hydrogen with a lower potential compared to water splitting, decreasing the costs of energy production. Urea is abundantly present in agricultural waste and in industrial and human wastewater. Besides generating hydrogen, this reaction provides a pathway to eliminate urea, which is a hazard in the environment and to people’s health. In this study, nanosheets of CuCo2O4 grown on nickel foam were synthesized as an electrocatalyst for urea oxidation to generate hydrogen as a green fuel.more »The synthesized electrocatalyst was characterized using X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The electroactivity of CuCo2O4 towards the oxidation of urea in alkaline solution was evaluated using electrochemical measurements. Nanosheets of CuCo2O4 grown on nickel foam required the potential of 1.36 V in 1 M KOH with 0.33 M urea to deliver a current density of 10 mA/cm2. The CuCo2O4 electrode was electrochemically stable for over 15 h of continuous measurements. The high catalytic activities for the hydrogen evolution reaction make the CuCo2O4 electrode a bifunctional catalyst and a promising electroactive material for hydrogen production. The two-electrode electrolyzer demanded a potential of 1.45 V, which was 260 mV less than that for the urea-free counterpart. Our study suggests that the CuCo2O4 electrode can be a promising material as an efficient UOR catalyst for fuel cells to generate hydrogen at a low cost.« less
  5. The development of cost-effective, high-performance electrocatalysts for hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) is urgently needed. In the present study, a new type of HER catalyst was developed where ruthenium ions were embedded into the molecular skeletons of graphitic carbon nitride (C 3 N 4 ) nanosheets of 2.0 ± 0.4 nm in thickness by refluxing C 3 N 4 and RuCl 3 in water. This took advantage of the strong affinity of ruthenium ions to pyridinic nitrogen of the tri- s -triazine units of C 3 N 4 . The formation of C 3 N 4 –Ru nanocomposites was confirmed bymore »optical and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic measurements, which suggested charge transfer from the C 3 N 4 scaffold to the ruthenium centers. Significantly, the hybrid materials were readily dispersible in water and exhibited apparent electrocatalytic activity towards HER in acid and their activity increased with the loading of ruthenium metal centers in the C 3 N 4 matrix. Within the present experimental context, the sample saturated with ruthenium ion complexation at a ruthenium to pyridinic nitrogen atomic ratio of ca. 1 : 2 displayed the best performance, with an overpotential of only 140 mV to achieve the current density of 10 mA cm −2 , a low Tafel slope of 57 mV dec −1 , and a large exchange current density of 0.072 mA cm −2 . The activity was markedly lower when C 3 N 4 was embedded with other metal ions such as Fe 3+ , Co 3+ , Ni 3+ and Cu 2+ . This suggests minimal contributions from the C 3 N 4 nanosheets to the HER activity, and the activity was most likely due to the formation of Ru–N moieties where the synergistic interactions between the carbon nitride and ruthenium metal centers facilitated the adsorption of hydrogen. This was strongly supported by results from density functional theory calculations.« less