Platinum Single Atom Catalysts for ‘Direct Formic Acid Fuel Cells’

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(Professor Hyunjoo Lee (left) and Ph.D. candidate Jiwhan Kim)

A research team co-led by Professor Hyunjoo Lee at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST and Professor Jeong Woo Han from the University of Seoul synthesized highly stable high-Pt-content single atom catalysts for direct formic acid fuel cells. The amount of platinum can be reduced to 1/10 of that of conventional platinum nanoparticle catalysts.

Platinum (Pt) catalysts have been used in various catalytic reactions due to their high activity and stability. However, because Pt is rare and expensive, it is important to reduce the amount of Pt used. Pt single atom catalysts can reduce the size of the Pt particles to the size of an atom. Thus, the cost of Pt catalysts can be minimized because all of the Pt atoms can participate in the catalytic reactions. Additionally, single atom catalysts have no ensemble site in which two or more atoms are attached, and thus, the reaction selectivity is different from that of nanoparticle catalysts.

Despite these advantages, single atom catalysts are easily aggregated and less stable due to their low coordination number and high surface free energy. It is difficult to develop a single atom catalyst with high content and high stability, and thus, its application in practical devices is limited.

Direct formic acid fuel cells can be an energy source for next-generation portable devices because liquid formic acid as a fuel is safer and easier to store and transport than high-pressure hydrogen gas.

To improve the stability of Pt single atom catalysts, Professor Lee’s group developed a Pt-Sn single atom alloy structure on an antimony-doped tin oxide (ATO) support. This structure has been proven by computational calculations which show that Pt single atoms substitute antimony sites in the antimony-tin alloy structure and are thermodynamically stable. This catalyst has been shown to have a higher activity up to 50 times per weight of Pt than that of the commercial catalyst, Pt/C, in the oxidation of formic acid, and the stability of the catalyst was also remarkably high.

Professor Lee’s group also used a single atomic catalyst in a ‘direct formic acid fuel cell’ consisting of membranes and electrodes. It is the first attempt to apply a single atomic catalyst to a full cell. In this case, an output similar to that of the commercial catalyst could be obtained by using 1/10 of the platinum compared to the commercial Pt/C catalyst.

Ph.D. candidate Jiwhan Kim from KAIST was the first author of the research. This research was published online on September 11 in Advanced Energy Materials.

This research was carried out with the support of the Samsung Electronics Future Technology Development Center.

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(Figure 1. Concept photograph for Pt single atom catalysts.)
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(Figure 2. Pt single atom catalysts by HAADF-STEM analysis (bright white circles))

Source : KAIST