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In Situ Anomalous Small-Angle X‑ray Scattering Studies of Platinum Nanoparticle Fuel Cell Electrocatalyst Degradation

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journal contribution
posted on 12.09.2012, 00:00 by James A. Gilbert, Nancy N. Kariuki, Ram Subbaraman, A. Jeremy Kropf, Matt C. Smith, Edward F. Holby, Dane Morgan, Deborah J. Myers
Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) are a promising high-efficiency energy conversion technology, but their cost-effective implementation, especially for automotive power, has been hindered by degradation of the electrochemically active surface area (ECA) of the Pt nanoparticle electrocatalysts. While numerous studies using ex situ post-mortem techniques have provided insight into the effect of operating conditions on ECA loss, the governing mechanisms and underlying processes are not fully understood. Toward the goal of elucidating the electrocatalyst degradation mechanisms, we have followed Pt nanoparticle growth during potential cycling of the electrocatalyst in an aqueous acidic environment using in situ anomalous small-angle X-ray scattering (ASAXS). ASAXS patterns were analyzed to obtain particle size distributions (PSDs) of the Pt nanoparticle electrocatalysts at periodic intervals during the potential cycling. Oxide coverages reached under the applied potential cycling protocols were both calculated and determined experimentally. Changes in the PSD, mean diameter, and geometric surface area identify the mechanism behind Pt nanoparticle coarsening in an aqueous environment. Over the first 80 potential cycles, the dominant Pt surface area loss mechanism when cycling to 1.0–1.1 V was found to be preferential dissolution or loss of the smallest particles with varying extents of reprecipitation of the dissolved species onto existing particles, resulting in particle growth, depending on potential profile. Correlation of ASAXS-determined particle growth with both calculated and voltammetrically determined oxide coverages demonstrates that the oxide coverage is playing a key role in the dissolution process and in the corresponding growth of the mean Pt nanoparticle size and loss of ECA. This understanding potentially reduces the complex changes in PSD and ECA resulting from various voltage profiles to a response dependent on oxide coverage.

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