5 years ago

Single Atomic Iron Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction in Acidic Media: Particle Size Control and Thermal Activation

Single Atomic Iron Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction in Acidic Media: Particle Size Control and Thermal Activation
Sooyeon Hwang, Zhi Qiao, Langli Luo, Maoyu Wang, Yuyan Shao, Hanguang Zhang, Zhenxing Feng, Chongmin Wang, Xiaohong Xie, Stavros Karakalos, Gang Wu, Dong Su
It remains a grand challenge to replace platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts with earth-abundant materials for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in acidic media, which is crucial for large-scale deployment of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). Here, we report a high-performance atomic Fe catalyst derived from chemically Fe-doped zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs) by directly bonding Fe ions to imidazolate ligands within 3D frameworks. Although the ZIF was identified as a promising precursor, the new synthetic chemistry enables the creation of well-dispersed atomic Fe sites embedded into porous carbon without the formation of aggregates. The size of catalyst particles is tunable through synthesizing Fe-doped ZIF nanocrystal precursors in a wide range from 20 to 1000 nm followed by one-step thermal activation. Similar to Pt nanoparticles, the unique size control without altering chemical properties afforded by this approach is able to increase the number of PGM-free active sites. The best ORR activity is measured with the catalyst at a size of 50 nm. Further size reduction to 20 nm leads to significant particle agglomeration, thus decreasing the activity. Using the homogeneous atomic Fe model catalysts, we elucidated the active site formation process through correlating measured ORR activity with the change of chemical bonds in precursors during thermal activation up to 1100 °C. The critical temperature to form active sites is 800 °C, which is associated with a new Fe species with a reduced oxidation number (from Fe3+ to Fe2+) likely bonded with pyridinic N (FeN4) embedded into the carbon planes. Further increasing the temperature leads to continuously enhanced activity, linked to the rise of graphitic N and Fe–N species. The new atomic Fe catalyst has achieved respectable ORR activity in challenging acidic media (0.5 M H2SO4), showing a half-wave potential of 0.85 V vs RHE and leaving only a 30 mV gap with Pt/C (60 μgPt/cm2). Enhanced stability is attained with the same catalyst, which loses only 20 mV after 10 000 potential cycles (0.6–1.0 V) in O2 saturated acid. The high-performance atomic Fe PGM-free catalyst holds great promise as a replacement for Pt in future PEMFCs.

Publisher URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jacs.7b06514

DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b06514

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