Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


More efficient all-organic catalysts in fuel cells

Organic catalysts are a breakthrough in the quest for inexpensive and efficient materials for environmentally friendly production of energy in fuel cells. A new study by physicists at Umeå University in Sweden, published in ACS Nano, provides better knowledge about key processes in producing these catalysts.

The world’s needs for energy and raw materials are constantly growing, and the search for readily accessible and inexpensive material for energy applications is driving research teams all around the world.

organic catalysis

Fuel cells based on hydrogen and oxygen, for example, can convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy in an environmentally friendly way, as the byproduct is simply water. For this conversion to occur efficiently, the electrodes in the fuel cells contain various forms of catalysts.

A major problem with these catalysts is that they are currently being made of alloys of platinum, ruthenium, and other noble metals. These noble metals are not only extremely expensive but also rare and difficult to extract. The pressure to find other more readily available catalysts is therefore very strong, and hence a report in Science about three years ago that an all-organic catalyst based on nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes could catalyze the splitting of oxygen just as effectively as platinum, evidently drew a great deal of attention.

Since then research in this field has been intensive, but yet many questions remain regarding the mechanism and efficiency of catalytic processes that occur at the defects where nitrogen atoms have replaced carbon atoms in the carbon nanotubes. A normal “ideal” carbon nanotube consists entirely of carbon atoms, but in practice most materials have defects. For example, it may be that an atom is missing at a site where it normally should be found, or that a carbon atom has been replaced by a foreign atom.
“In our case we deliberately created defects in the carbon nanotubes by replacing some of the carbon atoms with nitrogen atoms. We did this to create local centers around these defects that have an increased electron density. The increase in electron density leads to the desired catalytic properties,” says Thomas Wågberg, associate professor at the Department of Physics.

The study shows that the catalytic effect is much larger around certain types of nitrogen defects than around other types.

“We also show that it’s possible to use simple heat treatment to convert inefficient nitrogen defects into highly efficient defects,” says Thomas Wågberg.

Similar materials that the research group is studying also show great potential to catalyze other processes, such as the reverse process of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, which is referred to as artificial photosynthesis.

Behind the study is a research team at the Department of Physics, directed by Associate Professor Thomas Wågberg and including Tiva Sharifi, Dr. Guangzhi Hu, and Dr. Xueen Jia, with funding from, among others, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, ÅForsk (Ångpanneföreningen’s Foundation for Research and Development), and the Kempe Foundation.

About the publication:
Tiva Sharifi, Guangzhi Hu, Xueen Jia, and Thomas Wagberg, Formation of Active Sites for Oxygen Reduction Reactions by Transformation of Nitrogen Functionalities in Nitrogen-Doped Carbon Nanotubes,ACS Nano DOI: 10.1021/nn302906r.
Publication online:
Reference in Science: K. Gong, F. Du, Z. Xia, M. Durstock, L. Dai, Nitrogen-Doped Carbon Nanotube Arrays with High Electrocatalytic Activity for Oxygen Reduction, Science, 323, 760 (2009).

For more information, please contact:
Thomas Wågberg, Department of Physics, Umeå University
Telephone: +46(0)90-786 59 93

Ingrid Söderbergh | idw
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Earlier flowering of modern winter wheat cultivars

20.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Smithsonian researchers name new ocean zone: The rariphotic

20.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Molecular doorstop could be key to new tuberculosis drugs

20.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>