Discovery of true electrochemical reactions for ultrahigh catalyst mass activity in water splitting

by Scott T Retterer, Zhenye Kang, Scott T Retterer, David A Cullen, Todd J Toops, Johney B Green Jr, Matthew M Mench, Feng-Yuan Zhang


Better understanding of true electrochemical reaction behaviors in electrochemical energy devices has long been desired. It has been assumed so far that the reactions occur across the entire catalyst layer (CL), which is designed and fabricated uniformly with catalysts, conductors of protons and electrons, and pathways for reactants and products. By introducing a state-of-the-art characterization system, a thin, highly tunable liquid/gas diffusion layer (LGDL), and an innovative design of electrochemical proton exchange membrane electrolyzer cells (PEMECs), the electrochemical reactions on both microspatial and microtemporal scales are revealed for the first time. Surprisingly, reactions occur only on the CL adjacent to good electrical conductors. On the basis of these findings, new CL fabrications on the novel LGDLs exhibit more than 50 times higher mass activity than conventional catalyst-coated membranes in PEMECs. This discovery presents an opportunity to enhance the multiphase interfacial effects, maximizing the use of the catalysts and significantly reducing the cost of these devices.

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Publication Citation

Science Advances 2016 2 (11) February 7, 2017
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600690