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A Pt-free electrode promises to cut costs for fuel cells and metal-air batteries

By Tetsuo Satoh |

Hiroya Abe and colleagues at Tohoku University (Sendai, www.tohoku.ac.jp) and Hokkaido University have developed a method to fabricate a highly active catalyst electrode for performing the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in fuel cells and metal-air batteries. Currently, such fuel cells and metal-air batteries need expensive platinum-based carbon (Pt/C) electrodes for the reaction.

The research group has designed a new class of Pt-free catalysts that included molecular iron phthalocyanine (FePc) derivatives, namely, iron azaphthalocyanine (FeAzPc) unimolecular layers (Fe AzULs) adsorbed on oxidized multiwall carbon nanotubes (oxMWCNTs). FeAzPcs were dissolved in organic solvents such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), and catalytic electrodes modified with molecularly adsorbed FeAzPcs were successfully prepared. The optimized composition of the catalytic electrodes was determined, and the electrodes exhibited superior activity for the ORR, as well as being more durable than conventional FePc catalytic electrodes and commercial Pt/C. The catalytic electrodes that were molecularly modified with FeAzPcs have higher activities than those composed of FeAzPc crystals and oxMWCNTs. Unlike other Pt-free catalytic electrodes, the Fe AzUL catalytic electrodes can be prepared by low-cost processing without pyrolysis and are therefore promising catalytic electrode materials for applications, such as polymer electrolyte fuel cells and metal-air batteries.

A spin-off company, Azul Energy Co., Ltd., was established last July to commercialize the technology.

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