Synergistic increase of oxygen reduction favourable Fe-N coordination structures in a ternary hybrid of carbon nanospheres/carbon nanotubes/graphene sheets

Shiming Zhang, Bin Liu, Shengli Chen
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics: PCCP 2013 November 14, 15 (42): 18482-90
A Fe/N co-doped ternary nanocarbon hybrid, with uniform bamboo-like carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in situ grown on/between the single/few-layer graphene sheets interspaced by carbon nanosphere aggregates, was prepared through a one-pot heat treatment of a precursor mixture containing graphene oxide, Vulcan XC-72 carbon nanospheres, nitrogen rich melamine and small amounts of Fe ions. Physical characterization including electron microscopic images, N2 adsorption-desorption isotherms, pore size distribution, XPS, XRD, Mössbauer spectra, and EDX revealed that the 0-D/1-D/2-D ternary hybrid architecture not only offered an optimized morphology for high dispersion of each nanocarbon moiety, while the carbon nanosphere interspaced graphene sheets have provided a platform for efficient reaction between Fe ions and melamine molecules, resulting in uniform nucleation and growth of CNTs and formation of high density Fe-N coordination assemblies that have been believed to be the active centers for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in carbon-based nonprecious metal electrocatalysts. In the absence of graphene oxides or carbon nanospheres, a similar heat treatment was found to result in large amounts of elemental Fe and Fe carbides and entangled CNTs with wide diameter distributions. As a result, the ternary Fe/N-doped nanocarbon hybrid exhibits ORR activity much higher than the Fe-N doped single or binary nanocarbon materials prepared under similar heat treatment conditions, and approaching that of the state-of-the-art carbon-supported platinum catalyst (Pt/C) in acidic media, as well as superior stability and methanol tolerance to Pt/C.

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