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Recent advances in non-precious metal catalysis for oxygen-reduction reaction in polymer electrolyte

Hydrogen produced from water and renewable energy could fuel a large fleet of proton-exchange-fuel-cell vehicles in the future. However, the dependence on expensive Pt-based electrocatalysts in such fuel cells remains a major obstacle for a widespread deployment of this technology. One solution to overcome this predicament is to reduce the Pt content by a factor of ten by replacing the Pt-based catalysts with non-precious metal catalysts at the oxygen-reducing cathode. Fe- and Co-based electrocatalysts for this reaction have been studied for over 50 years, but they were insufficiently active for the high efficiency and power density needed for transportation fuel cells. Recently, several breakthroughs occurred that have increased the activity and durability of non-precious metal catalysts (NPMCs), which can now be regarded as potential competitors to Pt-based catalysts. This review focuses on the new synthesis methodsthat have led to these breakthroughs. A modeling analysis is also conducted to analyze the improvements required from NPMC-based cathodes to match the performance of Pt-based cathodes, even at high current density. While no further breakthrough in volume-specific activity of NPMCs is required, incremental improvements of the volume-specific activity and effective protonic conductivity within the fuel-cell cathode are necessary. Regarding durability, NPMCs with the best combination of durability and activity result in ca. 3 times lower fuel cellperformance than the most active NPMCs at 0.80 V. Thus, major tasks will be to combine durability with higher activity, and also improve durability at cell voltages greater than 0.60 V.

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