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Nitrogen-Doped Carbon Nanotube Arrays with High Electrocatalytic Activity for Oxygen Reduction

Science  06 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5915, pp. 760-764
DOI: 10.1126/science.1168049

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Abstract

The large-scale practical application of fuel cells will be difficult to realize if the expensive platinum-based electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reactions (ORRs) cannot be replaced by other efficient, low-cost, and stable electrodes. Here, we report that vertically aligned nitrogen-containing carbon nanotubes (VA-NCNTs) can act as a metal-free electrode with a much better electrocatalytic activity, long-term operation stability, and tolerance to crossover effect than platinum for oxygen reduction in alkaline fuel cells. In air-saturated 0.1 molar potassium hydroxide, we observed a steady-state output potential of –80 millivolts and a current density of 4.1 milliamps per square centimeter at –0.22 volts, compared with –85 millivolts and 1.1 milliamps per square centimeter at –0.20 volts for a platinum-carbon electrode. The incorporation of electron-accepting nitrogen atoms in the conjugated nanotube carbon plane appears to impart a relatively high positive charge density on adjacent carbon atoms. This effect, coupled with aligning the NCNTs, provides a four-electron pathway for the ORR on VA-NCNTs with a superb performance.

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