In spite of an admirable progress in reducing the content of platinum in polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) electrodes the electrocatalyst cost accounts for nearly half of the PEFC stack cost and for a quarter of the anticipated cost of the automotive power system at high production volumes of ca. 500,000 units. Consequently, a large-scale commercialization of fuel cell-powered vehicles and stationary power units largely depends on minimizing the catalyst cost, which can be achieved by continued reduction in the amount of platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts in the fuel cell electrodes, especially in the cathode, as in the acidic PEFCs significantly higher amounts (loadings) of Pt-based catalysts are required to promote the kinetically impaired oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) at the cathode than to support the very fast hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR) at the anode.
In this this presentation, we will start off by summarizing the accomplishments in the ORR electrocatalysis in the past few decades, which resulted in the advent of low-PGM catalysts and introduction of the first PEFC-powered cars. We will then specify challenges still facing the fuel cell electrocatalysis community, which have been dictated by the required compromise between catalyst activity and durability in the fuel cell stack. We will then continue with the discussion of approaches used to address those challenges via the development of both low-PGM and PGM-free formulations. In the latter part of this presentation, we will specifically concentrate on the essential performance improvements that would allow PGM-free catalysts, obtained via the heat treatment of precursors of transition metals, nitrogen and carbon (and/or using high surface-area carbons as hosts for the ORR active sites) to produce materials capable of competing with low-PGM catalysts in terms of oxygen reduction activity, performance durability, and cost (when extended to the overall cost of a fuel cell stack).
Dr. Piotr Zelenay received his Ph.D. and D.Sc. (“habilitation”) degrees in chemistry from the University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at Texas A&M University, College Station (1983-1986), a visiting professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (1988, 1989, 1990-92), University of Alicante, Spain (1994), and Colorado State University (1996-1997). Dr. Zelenay was appointed a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry, University of Warsaw in 1983 and remained at the University until 1997 when he accepted permanent research position with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). He has been associated with Materials Physics and Applications Division (formerly Materials Science and Technology Division) at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the past 19 years. He is currently Los Alamos Laboratory Fellow, as well as Project Leader and Team Leader at LANL, focusing primarily on fundamental and applied aspects of polymer electrolyte fuel cell science and technology, electrocatalysis and electrode kinetics. Dr. Zelenay has published over 150 research articles, many in renowned scientific journals, including Nature, Science, Chemical Reviews, and Accounts of Chemical Research, and has co-authored over 370 presentations, of which ca. 150 have been invited, keynote, and plenary lectures. He has 19 patents and patent applications in the area of polymer electrolyte fuel cells. Since becoming Project Leader for the LANL Fuel Cell Program in 2000, Dr. Zelenay has led numerous large research projects totaling more than $60M in research funding, and received more than 20 awards and recognitions. Among other distinctions, he was awarded Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellowship “in recognition of sustained outstanding scientific contributions” (2016); National Professorship in Chemistry by the President of Poland (2015); Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows Prize “for longstanding contributions to the understanding of non-precious metal electrocatalysts for fuel cells” (2015); Fellowship of the Electrochemical Society “for major contributions in the development of materials and concepts for polymer electrolyte fuel cells” (2014); Research Award of the Electrochemical Society Energy Technology Division “for fundamental and applied advances in polymer electrolyte fuel cell science and technology, electrocatalysis, and electrode kinetics” (2013); and DOE Hydrogen Program R&D Award in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Fuel Cell Technologies “for research on non-precious metal electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction” (2010). Dr. Zelenay is an Affiliate Professor at the University of Warsaw, Poland, director of Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat, part the DOE-EERE Energy Materials Network), chair of the DOE Catalysis Working Group, an active member of the Electrochemical Society and International Society of Electrochemistry, a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Electrocatalysis, and the steering committee board member of the International Academy of Electrochemical Energy Science (IAOEES).