Development of novel mesoporous Pd based electrocatalysts for methanol tolerant oxygen reduction

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry


The project is being submitted as part of the Collaborative Research with China on Solar Cells, Solar Fuels and Fuel Cells and is being submitted by Prof. Anthony Kucernak, Imperial College London, and Prof.Hui Yang, Energy Science and Technology Laboratory, Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (Chinese Academy of Sciences).Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) are a class of fuel cells which use methanol as a fuel. Methanol is a ubiquitous, high energy density fuel which can be produced from biogenic sources. It is easier to transport and store than hydrogen, and DMFCs can be produced with much higher energy densities than lithium-ion battery systems. One issue with DMFCs is that they suffer from crossover of methanol from the fuel electrode (anode) to the air electrode (cathode). The crossover is bad because the common catalysts used for the cathode are affected by methanol leading to a decrease in the power output of the DMFC. Our approach in this proposal is to develop new cathode catalysts which do not suffer from the methanol deactivation problem and so can produce higher power outputs than current catalysts. At the same time, the new catalysts will be less expensive and show greater stability over time.Our approach relies on the observation that palladium (<1/3 cost of platinum - the current preferred catalyst) is very poor at methanol oxidation. We have produced preliminary cathode catalysts composed of palladium alloys which are able to catalyse oxygen reduction in the presence of methanol much better than platinum alone. At this stage our research is tantalising close to realising the production of catalysts with real commercial possibility, but we need to test a number of effects in order to optimise the performance of catalysts and find the optimum composition and structure. These effects include:a) The optimum composition of the catalystb) The optimum composition of the catalyst supportc) The optimum structure (morphology) of the catalyst and supportWithin this project we will examine each of these effects and develop an optimised catalyst for the cathode of the DMFC. The work will occur over the course of three years and we will at every stage examine the possibility fo commercialising out catalysts. The work will be performed at Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (SIMIT), and Imperial College London(IMP). The work program is structured to rest on the strengths of the two applicants who have complimentary scientific approaches. Prof. Hui Yang (SIMIT) has extensive research experience in the production of Pd catalysts for DMFCs and the testing of passive DMFC systems. Prof Anthony Kucernak (IMP) has experience in the synthesis of mesoporous catalysts and the development of in situ electrochemical measurements necessary to understand the performance of these systems. Neither of the two applicants could consider undertaking this project alone, and as such this programme will be a useful forum for the exchange of techniques and methods. Central to this programme is the exchange of people between the two establishments to facilitate a cross-fertilisation of ideas and expose the workers to different environments and atmospheres.The research, to be disseminated broadly, will enable not only more efficient energy systems but will answer fundamental questions on the nature of electrode processes. The international collaboration will involve postdoctoral scholars and will facilitate meaningful UK/China exchanges.

Planned Impact

The work in this project is directed at producing new, high performance catalysts for portable direct fuel cell systems utilising methanol as a fuel i.e. the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC). As such this project is relatively closely focused on providing results which will benefit the industrial sector. If successful the research could provide stimulation for the production of a wide range of new high energy density person-portable consumer devices. Another example where direct methanol fuel cells have already been exploited to the benefit of the public is in the electrical power generation units developed by Smart Fuel Cell, and used to provide electrically power for camper vans. A further example where such direct methanol fuel cells have been used was as power sources for portable electronic books during the 2005 world expo in Japan. These readers show the potential benefit of utilising such e-book readers in the Museum/School sector. A successful result for this project could result in Intellectual Property generation which may be licensed to a company (e.g. Johnson Matthey) or may allow formation of a spin-out company (and thus including the potential for creation of new jobs). The development of new lower cost catalysts which allow the efficient commercialisation of direct methanol fuel cells may also allow the production of new portable instrumentation based on those fuel cells. Hence there is the possibility of the production of new products and equipment which were not possible previously. There are a range of societal impacts which may result from the efficient commercialisation of this research. These aspects come about because the improvement in portability of electrical equipment, but may also be associated with the development of enhanced mobility devices such as DMFC powered wheel chairs. A significant part of this project is associated with the cross-border development of research ties between UK and China, and there may be further societal benefits to this work. This research may be viewed as a pump-priming process which will allow the development of further research ties between UK and China. Certainly the involvement of scientists from the UK visiting China and Chinese academics visiting the UK may allow the development of new research areas and topics which go on to produce further benefits to the UK. Commercial exploitation of results will be managed by the appropriate technical transfer organisation of the two institutions. We already have a collaboration agreement in place. This project will also actively seek further exploitation of the project outcome through other industrial organisations. Considerations will also be given to knowledge transfer programme such as BIS and European Union consortium projects as well as spin off companies.
Description We have developed new catalysts for fuel cells which do not require platinum. These catalysts are based on metal phosphides and mesoporous palladium materials. It is important to note that the project is not finished yet, and will be competed at the beginning of 2015 due to a programme extension granted by the EPSRC
Exploitation Route We are currently looking to commercialise the catalysts and also use them in an alternate area - that of water electrolysis (i.e. the creation of hydrogen from water)
Sectors Chemicals,Energy

Description We have published a paper on our results and are currently looking to commercialise the results.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Construction,Energy
Title Nickel Phosphide catalyst 
Description A new electrocatalyst for hydrogen evolution has been developed - this material is much less expensive than current materials of choice (platinum) 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Possibility of reducing the amount of energy used in electrolysers 
Title Dataset for paper "Facile synthesis of palladium phosphide electrocatalysts and their activity for the hydrogen oxidation, hydrogen evolutions, oxygen reduction and formic acid oxidation reactions" 
Description Dataset of information used in the abovementioned paper 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None identified at the moment 
Description Collaboration with Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Supergen 
Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Supergen
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution H2FC is the hydrogen and fuel cell supergen. We have presented results at H2FC conferences and as Kucernak is a theme leader the results have been used to set the direction of future research
Collaborator Contribution Allow research to be seen by wider audience.
Impact Presentation of results at H2FC conferences
Start Year 2017
Description Collaboration with SIMIT, Shanghai 
Organisation Shanghai Insititute of Microelectronics
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaborative research on the development of new catalysts for fuel cells
Collaborator Contribution Testing of developed catalysts within fuel cells
Impact Better understanding of catalysts leading to publication of paper
Start Year 2012
Description Stand demonstrating technology at "The great exhibition rd festival", 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Stand at the "Great Exhibition Rd festival in June 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019