Rafal E. Dunin-Borkowski, Meital Shviro, Nina Erini, Marc Heggen, Mikaela Goerlin, Peter Strasser, Martin Gocyla, Stefanie Kühl, Elliot Padgett, David A. Muller, Henrike Schmies, Vera Beermann
Shape-controlled octahedral Pt–Ni alloy nanoparticles exhibit remarkably high activities for the electroreduction of molecular oxygen (oxygen reduction reaction, ORR), which makes them fuel-cell cathode catalysts with exceptional potential. To unfold their full and optimized catalytic activity and stability, however, the nano-octahedra require post-synthesis thermal treatments, which alter the surface atomic structure and composition of the crystal facets. Here, we address and strive to elucidate the underlying surface chemical processes using a combination of ex situ analytical techniques with in situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD), and in situ electrochemical Fourier transformed infrared (FTIR) experiments. We present a robust fundamental correlation between annealing temperature and catalytic activity, where a ∼25 times higher ORR activity than for commercial Pt/C (2.7 A mgPt–1 at 0.9 VRHE) was reproducibly observed upon annealing at 300 °C. The electrochemical stability, however, peaked out at the most severe heat treatments at 500 °C. Aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) in combination with in situ electrochemical CO stripping/FTIR data revealed subtle, but important, differences in the formation and chemical nature of Pt-rich and Ni-rich surface domains in the octahedral (111) facets. Estimating trends in surface chemisorption energies from in situ electrochemical CO/FTIR investigations suggested that balanced annealing generates an optimal degree of Pt surface enrichment, while the others exhibited mostly Ni-rich facets. The insights from our study are quite generally valid and aid in developing suitable post-synthesis thermal treatments for other alloy nanocatalysts as well.