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New findings in the research of the electrocatalyst for fuel cells

New findings in the research of the electrocatalyst for fuel cells

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Researchers of Nanjing Normal University (NNU) have made important breakthroughs in the research of the electrocatalyst for fuel cells. The advance could make important clean energy technology more economically viable. 

Their paper entitled “PtTe Monolayer: Two-Dimensional Electrocatalyst with High Basal Plane Activity toward Oxygen Reduction Reaction” was published in the journal J. Am. Chem. Soc. (JACS) (IF = 14.357 in 2018), which is one of the leading journals in international chemical research, on October 1, 2018.

The findings were made by the research group led by Prof. Yafei Li of the School of Chemistry and Materials Science. One of the members, NNU PhD graduate Yu Wang is the lead author of this paper. During his academic study in NNU, Yu Wang, as the lead author or co-lead author, has published 17 SCI papers and 9 of which were published in such journals (IF > 10) as J. Am. Chem. Soc., Nat. Commun., Chem, Adv. Mater., Energy Environ. Sci., and ACS Energy Lett. This research group has published a second paper in JACS, with NNU as the signature unit of the first author, this month.

A fuel cell can convert the chemical energy into electricity, which is an ideal solution to meet the future need of energy. The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) is the reaction occurring at the cathode. Normally, the ORR is overpotential, slow in the kinetics and highly dependent on the Pt-based electrocatalysts. Because these Pt-based catalysts are too expensive for making commercially viable fuel cells, extensive research, over the past several decades, has focused on developing alternative catalysts, including non-noble metal or even metal-free catalysts. But these non-Pt catalysts with low activity and poor durability make it difficult to replace the Pt-based ones.

In recent years, the single-atom catalyst (SAC) has made researchers realize that if the utilization rate of Pt atoms in the Pt-base catalysts can be greatly improved without sacrificing their catalytic performance, it will bring new hope to the Pt-base catalyst.

Based on this, the research group led by Prof. Li, in conjunction with Prof. Thomas Heine of Dresden University of Technology, found monolayer PtTe, a two-dimensional inorganic material by using the density functional theory. Their calculations show that monolayer PtTe with good thermodynamics, kinetics and stability is a candidate to substitute Pt electrodes, and they computationally studied its catalytic performance in the ORR. Remarkably, the basal plane of a PtTe monolayer exhibits excellent catalytic activity toward ORR, with a positive half-wave potential (∼0.90 V) and a high four-electron reduction pathway selectivity. These characteristics suggest that it outperforms Pt electrodes as a catalyst, for it has a reduced Pt content, high Pt utilization, and a high surface area. It is a promising candidate for fuel cell components and offers new insight into the theory and practice of the two-dimensional Pt-based catalysts.

Support for the project was provided by the National Science Foundation for Distinguished Young Scholars, the Natural Science Fund of Jiangsu Province for Distinguished Young Scientist, Jiangsu Collaborative Innovation Centre of Biomedical Functional Materials, Jiangsu Key Laboratory of New Power Batteries and the Priority Academic Program Development (PAPD) of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions.