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  1. The impact of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) as a binder component on the durability of Pt/C cathodes in a proton exchange membrane fuel cell membrane-electrode-assembly (MEA) during a carbon corrosion accelerated stress test (AST) was examined using electrochemical fuel cell data and visual inspection/analysis of the cathode morphology via electron-microscopy. Electrospun nanofiber cathode mat MEAs with a Nafion®/PVDF or Nafion/poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) binder or a slurry cathode MEA with neat Nafion or a Nafion/PVDF binder were investigated. The presence of PVDF had profound effects on the structure and chemical/electrochemical properties of a fuel cell cathode; its hydrophobic property slowed the rate of carbon loss and its robust mechanical properties added strength to the binder. Thus, the extent of carbon loss during an AST was inversely proportional to the PVDF content of the binder and there was no observable cathode thinning nor any change in cathode porosity after the AST, when the cathode binder contained at least 50 wt% PVDF. In terms of long-term durability, these beneficial structural effects outweighed the lower Nafion/PVDF binder conductivity and the associated lower initial power output of a Nafion/PVDF cathode MEA. For hydrophilic slurry and nanofiber cathodes with neat Nafion or Nafion/PAA fibers, low power aftermore »the carbon corrosion AST was due to greater carbon losses, cathode thinning and the collapse of cathode pores, which dominated MEA performance even though the initial cathode ECSA and mass activity were high for these two MEAs.

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  2. Proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) and direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) are promising power sources from portable electronic devices to vehicles. The high-cost issue of these low-temperature fuel cells can be primarily addressed by using platinum-group metal (PGM)-free oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts, in particular atomically dispersed metal–nitrogen–carbon (M–N–C, M = Fe, Co, Mn). Furthermore, a significant advantage of M–N–C catalysts is their superior methanol tolerance over Pt, which can mitigate the methanol cross-over effect and offer great potential of using a higher concentration of methanol in DMFCs. Here, we investigated the ORR catalytic properties of M–N–C catalysts in methanol-containing acidic electrolytes via experiments and density functional theory (DFT) calculations. FeN 4 sites demonstrated the highest methanol tolerance ability when compared to metal-free pyridinic N, CoN 4 , and MnN 4 active sites. The methanol adsorption on MN 4 sites is even strengthened when electrode potentials are applied during the ORR. The negative influence of methanol adsorption becomes significant for methanol concentrations higher than 2.0 M. However, the methanol adsorption does not affect the 4e − ORR pathway or chemically destroy the FeN 4 sites. The understanding of the methanol-induced ORR activity loss guides the design of promising M–N–C cathodemore »catalyst in DMFCs. Accordingly, we developed a dual-metal site Fe/Co–N–C catalyst through a combined chemical-doping and adsorption strategy. Instead of generating a possible synergistic effect, the introduced Co atoms in the first doping step act as “scissors” for Zn removal in metal–organic frameworks (MOFs), which is crucial for modifying the porosity of the catalyst and providing more defects for stabilizing the active FeN 4 sites generated in the second adsorption step. The Fe/Co–N–C catalyst significantly improved the ORR catalytic activity and delivered remarkably enhanced peak power densities ( i.e. , 502 and 135 mW cm −2 ) under H 2 –air and methanol–air conditions, respectively, representing the best performance for both types of fuel cells. Notably, the fundamental understanding of methanol tolerance, along with the encouraging DMFC performance, will open an avenue for the potential application of atomically dispersed M–N–C catalysts in other direct alcohol or ammonia fuel cells.« less
  3. Platinum group metal-free (PGM-free) catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) with atomically dispersed FeN 4 sites have emerged as a potential replacement for low-PGM catalysts in acidic polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs). In this work, we carefully tuned the doped Fe content in zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF)-8 precursors and achieved complete atomic dispersion of FeN 4 sites, the sole Fe species in the catalyst based on Mößbauer spectroscopy data. The Fe–N–C catalyst with the highest density of active sites achieved respectable ORR activity in rotating disk electrode (RDE) testing with a half-wave potential ( E 1/2 ) of 0.88 ± 0.01 V vs. the reversible hydrogen electrode (RHE) in 0.5 M H 2 SO 4 electrolyte. The activity degradation was found to be more significant when holding the potential at 0.85 V relative to standard potential cycling (0.6–1.0 V) in O 2 saturated acid electrolyte. The post-mortem electron microscopy analysis provides insights into possible catalyst degradation mechanisms associated with Fe–N coordination cleavage and carbon corrosion. High ORR activity was confirmed in fuel cell testing, which also divulged the promising performance of the catalysts at practical PEFC voltages. We conclude that the key factor behind the high ORR activity ofmore »the Fe–N–C catalyst is the optimum Fe content in the ZIF-8 precursor. While too little Fe in the precursors results in an insufficient density of FeN 4 sites, too much Fe leads to the formation of clusters and an ensuing significant loss in catalytic activity due to the loss of atomically dispersed Fe to inactive clusters or even nanoparticles. Advanced electron microscopy was used to obtain insights into the clustering of Fe atoms as a function of the doped Fe content. The Fe content in the precursor also affects other key catalyst properties such as the particle size, porosity, nitrogen-doping level, and carbon microstructure. Thanks to using model catalysts exclusively containing FeN 4 sites, it was possible to directly correlate the ORR activity with the density of FeN 4 species in the catalyst.« less
  4. Hybrid capacitive deionization (HCDI), which combines a capacitive carbon electrode and a redox active electrode in a single device, has emerged as a promising method for water desalination, enabling higher ion removal capacity than devices containing two carbon electrodes. However, to date, the desalination performance of few redox active materials has been reported. For the first time, we present the electrochemical behavior of manganese oxide nanowires with four different tunnel crystal structures as faradaic electrodes in HCDI cells. Two of these phases are square tunnel structured manganese oxides, α-MnO2 and todorokite-MnO2. The other two phases have novel structures that cross-sectional scanning transmission electron microscopy analysis revealed to have ordered and disordered combinations of structural tunnels with different dimensions. The ion removal performance of the nanowires was evaluated not only in NaCl solution, which is traditionally used in laboratory experiments, but also in KCl and MgCl2 solutions, providing better understanding of the behavior of these materials for desalination of brackish water that contains multiple cation species. High ion removal capacities (as large as 27.8 mg g−1, 44.4 mg g−1, and 43.1 mg g−1 in NaCl, KCl, and MgCl2 solutions, respectively) and high ion removal rates (as large as 0.112 mg g−1more »s−1, 0.165 mg g−1 s−1, and 0.164 mg g−1 s−1 in NaCl, KCl, and MgCl2 solutions, respectively) were achieved. By comparing ion removal capacity to structural tunnel size, it was found that smaller tunnels do not favor the removal of cations with larger hydrated radii, and more efficient removal of larger hydrated cations can be achieved by utilizing manganese oxides with larger structural tunnels. Extended HCDI cycling and ex situ X-ray diffraction analysis revealed the excellent stability of the manganese oxide electrodes in repeated ion removal/ion release cycles, and compositional analysis of the electrodes indicated that ion removal is achieved through both surface redox reactions and intercalation of ions into the structural tunnels. This work contributes to the understanding of the behavior of faradaic materials in electrochemical water desalination and elucidates the relationship between the electrode material crystal structure and the ion removal capacity/ion removal rate in various salt solutions.« less