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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Oxidation of Platinum under Wet Conditions Observed by Electrochemical X‑ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy


During the electrochemical reduction of oxygen, platinum catalysts are often (partially) oxidized. While these platinum oxides are thought to play a crucial role in fuel cell degradation, their nature remains unclear. Here, we studied the electrochemical oxidation of Pt nanoparticles using in situ XPS. When the particles were sandwiched between a graphene sheet and a proton exchange membrane that is wetted from the back, a confined electrolyte layer was formed, allowing us to probe the electrocatalyst under wet conditions. We show that the surface oxide formed at the onset of Pt oxidation has a mixed Ptδ+/Pt2+/Pt4+ composition. The formation of this surface oxide is suppressed when a Br-containing membrane is chosen due to adsorption of Br on Pt. Time-resolved measurements show that oxidation is fast for nanoparticles: even bulk PtO2· nH2O growth occurs on the subminute time scale. The fast formation of Pt4+ species in both surface and bulk oxide form suggests that Pt4+-oxides are likely formed (or reduced) even in the transient processes that dominate Pt electrode degradation.

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