Electrochemical performance of annealed cobalt-benzotriazole/CNTs catalysts towards the oxygen reduction reaction

Adina Morozan, Pascale Jégou, Bruno Jousselme, Serge Palacin
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics: PCCP 2011 December 28, 13 (48): 21600-7
One of the major limitations yet to the global implementation of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) is the cathode catalyst. The development of efficient platinum-free catalysts is the key issue to solve the problem of slow kinetics of the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) and high cost. We report a promising catalyst for ORR prepared through the annealing treatment under inert conditions of the cobalt-benzotriazole (Co-BTA) complex supported on carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The N-rich benzotriazole precursor was chosen based on its ability to complex Co(II) ions and generate under annealing highly reactive radicals able to tune the physicochemical properties of CNTs. X-Ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) was used to follow the surface structure changes and highlight the active electrocatalytic sites towards the ORR. To achieve further evaluation of the catalysts in acidic medium, voltamperometry, rotating disk electrode (RDE), rotating ring-disk electrode (RRDE) and half-cell measurements were performed. The resulting catalysts (Co/N/CNTs) all show catalytic activity towards the ORR, the most active one resulting from annealing at 700 °C. The overall electron transfer number for the catalyzed ORR was determined to be ∼3.7 with no change upon the catalyst loading, suggesting that the ORR was dominated by a 4e(-) transfer process. The results indicate a promising alternative cathode catalyst for ORR in fuel cells, although its performance is still lower (overpotential around 110 mV evaluated by RDE and RRDE) than the reference Pt/C catalyst.

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