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UCR, Stanford team develops general approach for inexpensive, efficient catalysts for PEM fuel cells

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, with colleagues at Stanford have developed a general approach for the production of inexpensive, efficient and durable catalysts for PEM fuel cells: 1D porous nitrogen-doped graphitic carbon fibers embedded with active oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalyst components (M/MOx, i.e., metal or metal oxide nanoparticles).

In a paper in the journal Small, the team reports that the metal/metal oxide@N-doped graphitic carbon fibers—especially Co3O4—exhibit comparable ORR catalytic activity but superior stability and methanol tolerance versus the industry-standard platinum in alkaline solutions.

Although platinum (Pt) has been long known as the most efficient ORR catalyst, its high cost and scarcity have hampered the large-scale commercialization of fuel cell and metal–air battery technologies. In particular, commercialization of the fuel cell technology has been further limited by the poor operation durability, fuel crossover effect, and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning intrinsically associated with Pt catalysts. Consequently, non-precious carbon or metal oxide catalysts have been explored as alternative electrocatalysts for ORR.

… However, the low conductivity of most carbon-based structures and poor interfacial engineering of heterostructures still greatly impede the transport of electrons and electrolyte ions during the electrochemical processes, limiting their overall oxygen reduction performance. 1D graphitic structures, which provide the necessary charge conductivity and favored 3D conductive networks when assembled as fuel cell electrodes, have been considered as a promising solution to the above challenges.

… Herein, we describe a two-step electrospinning–annealing method to produce porous and electrically conductive 1D N-doped graphitic carbon fibrous networks embedded with catalytic metal (M, i.e., Co, Ni, Fe) or metal oxide (MOx) nano- particles.

—Tang et al.

The research was led by David Kisailus, the Winston Chung Endowed Professor in Energy Innovation in UCR’s Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering. The researchers formed 1D nanostructures by electrospinning polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibers containing transition metal (Co, Ni, and Fe) salts and annealing in a reducing atmosphere to yield metal nanoparticles/nanoclusters that catalyze graphitization of the surrounding polymer matrix at greatly reduced temperatures (≈800 °C).

Subsequent annealing to oxidize the metal nanoparticles creates an interconnected graphite–metal oxide framework with large pore channels, considerable number of active sites, and high specific surface area.

Synthesis strategy of metal NPs@graphitic carbon fibers by sequential steps: a) Preparation of electrospun solution of metal salts/polymer/ solvent; b) electrospinning to obtain metal ions@polymer fibers; c) controlled carbonization and graphitization to obtain metal NPs@graphitic carbon fibers by annealing in inert atmospheres. Tang et al. Click to enlarge.

Kisailus and his team, collaborating with scientists at Stanford University, determined that the new materials performed as well as the industry standard platinum-carbon systems, but at a fraction of the cost.

The key to the high performance of the materials we created is the combination of the chemistry and fiber processing conditions. The remarkable electrochemical properties were primarily attributed to the synergistic effects obtained from the engineering of the metal oxide with exposed active sites and the 3D hierarchical porous graphitic structure.

—David Kisailus

Kisailus said an added benefit of the catalytic nanocomposite was that its graphitic fiber nature provided additional strength and durability, which would enable it to serve as both a fuel cell catalyst and potentially as a structural component.

An important challenge in making high-performance vehicles is reducing weight, both from the body of the vehicle as well as extra weight from the battery or fuel cell, without affecting safety or performance. The material we created may enable automakers to turn structural components, such as the hood or the chassis, into functional elements that help power cars.

—David Kisailus


  • H. Tang, W. Chen, J. Wang, T. Dugger, L. Cruz, D. Kisailus (2018) “Electrocatalytic N-Doped Graphitic Nanofiber - Metal/Metal Oxide Nanoparticle Composites” Small doi: 10.1002/smll.201703459



One more of the many ways to make lower cost more efficient FCs?


It seems clear that one way or another fuel cells are going to come in at a reasonable price.

I will believe them as structural members when I see it though!


Davemart, i think they are shoring up emergency power applications like telecoms pretty well.

I would say they are also popular in forklifts too.

I think of all these technologies as a matter of when, more so than if.

I don't doubt long range bevs coming, the same way i don't doubt fuel cells coming.
The ICE is going fight its last days from extinction, but it's just doomed by its nature. We just saw that opposed piston engine, not many other tricks left.

The recent breakthroughs we've seen alleged by hydrogen conspirators has been astounding, even claiming they can create pressurized hydrogen more efficiently from natural gas than a battery car can take electricity from the grid. It's just mind boggling as of a year ago, none of this was known.

It would be nice to have a 25kwh bev with a 15-100kw hydrogen extender, for the price of a modern hybrid ice.


Hi CheeseEater:

Getting good enough batteries at the right price for long range BEVs is proving sticky, and fast charging at anything comparable to ICE is a tough one.

So although I would welcome wonder batteries if they come along, what we can do is PHEV FCEVs, where you only need around 20-30KWh of fuel cell, and since even if it switches the FC stack on there are still zero emissions there is no need to oversize the battery.

That is what one of the manufacturers, we don't know who, is building in China.


30 kW is about 40 hp, if anyone remembers a 40 hp VW bug going up a hill you see the problem.


One solution for FC/batteries-Hybrids is AWD. One axel driven by on board batteries and the other by the FC.

Alternatively, FC and quick charge batteries could work has a single power source, with appropriate transmission to handle hills etc.

Of course, both the battery pack and FC could have various power depending on the size/weight/ranch and use of the vehicle.

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