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Low-Cost Metal Carbide Catalyst Supports

A single layer of platinum deposited on inexpensive carbides leads to active hydrogen-evolution catalysts

by Mitch Jacoby
January 23, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 4

Metal carbides capped with monolayer quantities of precious metals can serve as active hydrogen evolution catalysts, according to a study conducted at the University of Delaware (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja208656v). The work may lead to low-cost substitutes for platinum-based electrolyzers and fuel-cell catalysts by drastically reducing the required loading of expensive metals. Electrolyzers and fuel cells offer energy-efficient and environmentally benign methods for producing hydrogen from water and combining hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity, respectively. Lowering device costs by reducing dependence on platinum could broaden commercial use. So Delaware’s Daniel V. Esposito, Jingguang G. Chen, and coworkers prepared thin films of tungsten carbides (WC and W2C) with well-controlled surface stoichiometry and treated them with monolayer quantities of platinum. The team found that for hydrogen evolution, the platinum-coated films are nearly equal in catalytic activity to pure (bulk) platinum and are more stable than standard carbon-supported Pt catalysts. Palladium-coated films also exhibited high catalytic activities. The team is now studying ways to boost the catalyst surface area by using atomic layer deposition methods to prepare Pt-WC nanoparticles, Chen says.


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