Pt skin on AuCu intermetallic substrate: a strategy to maximize Pt utilization for fuel cells

J Am Chem Soc. 2014 Jul 9;136(27):9643-9. doi: 10.1021/ja503315s. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


The dependence on Pt catalysts has been a major issue of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Strategies to maximize the Pt utilization in catalysts include two main approaches: to put Pt atoms only at the catalyst surface and to further enhance the surface-specific catalytic activity (SA) of Pt. Thus far there has been no practical design that combines these two features into one single catalyst. Here we report a combined computational and experimental study on the design and implementation of Pt-skin catalysts with significantly improved SA toward the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). Through screening, using density functional theory (DFT) calculations, a Pt-skin structure on AuCu(111) substrate, consisting of 1.5 monolayers of Pt, is found to have an appropriately weakened oxygen affinity, in comparison to that on Pt(111), which would be ideal for ORR catalysis. Such a structure is then realized by substituting the Cu atoms in three surface layers of AuCu intermetallic nanoparticles (AuCu iNPs) with Pt. The resulting Pt-skinned catalyst (denoted as Pt(S)AuCu iNPs) has been characterized in depth using synchrotron XRD, XPS, HRTEM, and HAADF-STEM/EDX, such that the Pt-skin structure is unambiguously identified. The thickness of the Pt skin was determined to be less than two atomic layers. Finally the catalytic activity of Pt(S)AuCu iNPs toward the ORR was measured via rotating disk electrode (RDE) voltammetry through which it was established that the SA was more than 2 times that of a commercial Pt/C catalyst. Taking into account the ultralow Pt loading in Pt(S)AuCu iNPs, the mass-specific catalytic activity (MA) was determined to be 0.56 A/mg(Pt)@0.9 V, a value that is well beyond the DOE 2017 target for ORR catalysts (0.44 A/mg(Pt)@0.9 V). These findings provide a strategic design and a realizable approach to high-performance and Pt-efficient catalysts for fuel cells.