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Efficient Metal-Free Electrocatalysts for Oxygen Reduction: Polyaniline-Derived N- and O‑Doped Mesoporous Carbons

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journal contribution
posted on 29.05.2013, 00:00 authored by Rafael Silva, Damien Voiry, Manish Chhowalla, Tewodros Asefa
The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR)one of the two half-reactions in fuel cellsis one of the bottlenecks that has prevented fuel cells from finding a wide range of applications today. This is because ORR is inherently a sluggish reaction; it is also because inexpensive and sustainable ORR electrocatalysts that are not only efficient but also are based on earth-abundant elements are hard to come by. Herein we report the synthesis of novel carbon-based materials that can contribute to solving these challenges associated with ORR. Mesoporous oxygen- and nitrogen-doped carbons were synthesized from in situ polymerized mesoporous silica-supported polyaniline (PANI) by carbonization of the latter, followed by etching away the mesoporous silica template from it. The synthetic method also allowed the immobilization of different metals such as Fe and Co easily into the system. While all the resulting materials showed outstanding electrocatalytic activity toward ORR, the metal-free, PANI-derived mesoporous carbon (dubbed PDMC), in particular, exhibited the highest activity, challenging conventional paradigms. This unprecedented activity by the metal-free PDMC toward ORR was attributed to the synergetic activities of nitrogen and oxygen (or hydroxyl) species that were implanted in it by PANI/mesoporous silica during pyrolysis.