3D Polymer Hydrogel for High-Performance Atomic Fe and Mn Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction in Challenging Acids
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Current platinum group metal (PGM)-free carbon nanocomposite catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in acidic electrolyte often suffer from rapid degradation associated with carbon corrosion due to the use of large amount of the amorphoous carbon black supports. Here, we developed a new concept of using freestanding 3D hydrogel to design support-free Fe-N-C catalysts. A 3D polyaniline (PANI)-based hydrogel approach was used for preparing a new type of single atomic iron site-rich catalyst, which has exhibited exceptionally enhanced activity and stability compared to conventional Fe-N-C catalysts supported on amorphous carbon blacks. The achieved performance metric on the hydrogel PANI-Fe catalysts is one of the best ever reported PGM-free catalysts, reaching a half-wave potential up to 0.83 V vs. RHE and only leaving 30 mV gap with Pt/C catalysts (60μgPt/cm 2 ) in challenging acidic media. Remarkable ORR stability was accomplished as well on the same catalyst evidenced by using harsh potential cycling tests. The well dispersion of atomic iron into partially graphitized carbon, featured with dominance of micropores and porous network structures, is capable of accommodating increased number of active sites, strengthening local bonding among iron, nitrogen and carbon, and facilitating mass transfer. On the other hand, in order to decrease the produced Fenton reagent, which will oxidize the proton exchange membrane and ionomer in membrane electrode assembly (MEA), we produce Mn-based catalysts by this novel hydrogel method. This is the first time that Mn-based catalysts can show such outstanding performance in acid media, whose half-wave potential is up to 0.80 V vs. RHE. The work related to the performance improvement is still in processing. We believe the 3D polymer hydrogel approach would be a new pathway to advance PGM-free catalysts.