Identification of catalytic sites for oxygen reduction in iron- and nitrogen-doped graphene materials

Nat Mater. 2015 Sep;14(9):937-42. doi: 10.1038/nmat4367. Epub 2015 Aug 10.


While platinum has hitherto been the element of choice for catalysing oxygen electroreduction in acidic polymer fuel cells, tremendous progress has been reported for pyrolysed Fe-N-C materials. However, the structure of their active sites has remained elusive, delaying further advance. Here, we synthesized Fe-N-C materials quasi-free of crystallographic iron structures after argon or ammonia pyrolysis. These materials exhibit nearly identical Mössbauer spectra and identical X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (XANES) spectra, revealing the same Fe-centred moieties. However, the much higher activity and basicity of NH3-pyrolysed Fe-N-C materials demonstrates that the turnover frequency of Fe-centred moieties depends on the physico-chemical properties of the support. Following a thorough XANES analysis, the detailed structures of two FeN4 porphyrinic architectures with different O2 adsorption modes were then identified. These porphyrinic moieties are not easily integrated in graphene sheets, in contrast with Fe-centred moieties assumed hitherto for pyrolysed Fe-N-C materials. These new insights open the path to bottom-up synthesis approaches and studies on site-support interactions.