Effect of Dispersion-Medium Composition and Ionomer Concentration on the Microstructure and Rheology of Fe-N-C Platinum Group Metal-Free Catalyst Inks for Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells

Sunilkumar Khandavalli, Radhika Iyer, Jae Park, Deborah Myers, Kenneth Neyerlin, Michael Ulsh, Scott Mauger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus Citations

Abstract

We present an investigation of the microstructure and rheological behavior of catalyst inks consisting of Fe-N-C platinum group metal-free catalysts and a perfluorosulfonic acid ionomer in a dispersion medium (DM) of water and 1-propanol (nPA). The effects of the ionomer-to-catalyst (I/C) ratio and weight percentage of water (H2O %) in the DM on the ink microstructure were studied. Steady-shear and dynamic-oscillatory-shear rheology, in combination with synchrotron X-ray scattering, was utilized to understand interparticle interactions and the level of agglomeration of the inks. In the absence of the ionomer, the inks were significantly agglomerated, approaching a gel-like microstructure for catalyst concentrations as low as 2 wt %. The effect of H2O % in the DM on particle agglomeration was found to vary with particle concentration. In concentrated inks (≥2 wt % catalyst), increasing H2O % was found to increase agglomeration because of the hydrophobic nature of the catalysts. In dilute inks (<1 wt % catalyst), the trend was reversed with increasing H2O %, suggesting that electrostatic interactions are dominating the behavior. In inks with 5 wt % catalyst, the addition of an ionomer was found to significantly stabilize the catalyst against agglomeration. Maximum stability was observed at 0.35 I/C for all DM H2O % studied. At high ionomer concentrations (I/C > 0.35), interesting differences were observed between nPA-rich inks (H2O % ≤ 50%) and H2O-rich (82% H2O) inks. The nPA-rich inks remained predominantly stable - ink viscosity only weakly increased with I/C and the Newtonian behavior was maintained for I/C up to 0.9. In contrast, the H2O-rich inks exhibited a significant increase in viscoelasticity with increasing I/C, suggesting flocculation of the catalyst by the ionomer. These differences suggest that the nature of the interactions between the ionomer and catalyst is highly dependent on the H2O % in the DM.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)12247-12260
Number of pages14
JournalLangmuir
Volume36
Issue number41
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5900-77134

Keywords

  • catalyst inks
  • catalyst layer
  • ink composition
  • ionomer
  • PGM-free
  • proton-exchange membrane fuel cells
  • rheology

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