Synthesis and characterization of nano- structured electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction in fuel cells
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Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) and direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) are two types of low-temperature fuel cells (LTFCs) that operate at temperatures less than 100 °C and are appealing for portable, transportation, and stationary applications. However, commercialization has been hampered by several problems such as cost, efficiency, and durability. New electrocatalysts must be developed that have higher oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) activity, lower precious metal loadings, and improved durability to become commercially viable. This dissertation investigates the development and use of new electrocatalysts for the ORR. Core-shell (shell@core) Pt@Pd[subscript x]Cu[subscript y]/C electrocatalysts, with a range of initial compositions, were synthesized to result in a Pt-rich shell atop a Pd[subscript x]C[subscript y]-rich core. The interaction between core and shell resulted in a delay in the onset of Pt-OH formation, accounting in a 3.5-fold increase in Pt-mass activity compared to Pt/C. The methanol tolerance of the core-shell Pt@PdCu₅/C was found to decrease with increasing Pt-shell coverage due to the negative potential shift in the CO oxidation peak. It was discovered that Cu leached out from the cathode has a detrimental effect on membrane-electrode assembly performance. A spray-assisted impregnation method was developed to reduce particle size and increase dispersion on the support in a consistent manner for a Pd₈₈W₁₂/C electrocatalyst. The spray-assisted method resulted in decreased particle size, improved dispersion and more uniform drying compared to a conventional method. These differences resulted in greater performance during operation of a single DMFC and PEMFC. Additionally, Pd₈₈W₁₂/C prepared by spray-assisted impregnation showed DMFC performance similar to Pt/C with similar particle size in the kinetic region while offering improved methanol tolerance. Pd₈₈W₁₂/C also showed comparable maximum power densities and activities normalized by cost in a PEMFC. Lastly, the activation of aluminum as an effective reducing agent for the wet- chemical synthesis of metallic particles by pitting corrosion was explored along with the control of particle morphology. It was found that atomic hydrogen, an intermediate, was the actual reducing agent, and a wide array of metals could be produced. The particle size and dispersion of Pd/C produced using Al was controlled using PVP and FeCl₂ as stabilizers. The intermetallic Cu₂Sb was similarly prepared with a 20 nm crystallite size for potential use in lithium-ion battery anodes. Lastly, it was found that the shape of Pd produced with Al as a reducing agent could be controlled to prepare 10 nm cubes enclosed by (100) facets with potentially high activity for the ORR.