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Advanced Catalyst Design for the Oxygen Reduction Reaction in Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells


With increasing global energy demand and energy-related carbon emissions, the transportation sector (accounting for over 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States) must be pushed towards total decarbonization. The polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) are a promising energy conversion technology towards the zero-emission goals in transportation applications. However, the high prices and short life cycles of the electrocatalytic materials hinder the widespread commercialization of PEMFCs. Specifically, the design of the cathode catalyst materials (driving the sluggish cathodic oxygen reduction reaction) is instrumental in the success of PEMFCs. Current industry standards utilize a high platinum content catalyst (in nanoparticle form) supported on carbon blacks. The understanding and development of the ideal catalyst layer is three-fold: (1) the nanoparticle-ionomer interface, (2) the nanoparticle-support interface, and (3) the ionomer-support interface. The first portion of my work outlines the ideal cathodic catalyst layer based on a review of recent works which encompasses all three interfacial interactions. The second portion of my work addresses the solid-state integration challenges (i.e., the nanoparticle-ionomer interactions) for the advanced structured Pt-based nanomaterials. The final portion of my work addresses the next generation design parameters of carbon-based supports with a focus on nanoparticle-support interactions.

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