Recreating Fuel Cell Catalyst Degradation in Aqueous Environments for Identical-Location Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy Studies

Haoran Yu, Michael Zachman, Chenzhao Li, Leiming Hu, Nancy Kariuki, Rangachary Mukundan, Jian Xie, Kenneth Neyerlin, Deborah Myers, David Cullen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus Citations


The recent surge in interest of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) for heavy-duty vehicles increases the demand on the durability of oxygen reduction reaction electrocatalysts used in the fuel cell cathode. This prioritizes efforts aimed at understanding and subsequently controlling catalyst degradation. Identical-location scanning transmission electron microscopy (IL-STEM) is a powerful method that enables precise characterization of degradation processes in individual catalyst nanoparticles across various stages of cycling. Recreating the degradation processes that occur in PEMFC membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) within the aqueous cell used for IL-STEM experiments is vital for generating an accurate understanding of these processes. In this work, we investigate the type and degree of catalyst degradation achieved by cycling in an aqueous cell compared to a PEMFC MEA. While significant degradation is observed in IL-STEM experiments performed on a traditional Pt catalyst using the standard accelerated stress test potential window (0.6-0.95 VRHE), degradation of a PtCo catalyst designed for heavy-duty vehicle use is very limited compared to that observed in MEAs. We therefore explore various experimental parameters such as temperature, acid type, acid concentration, ionomer content, and potential window to identify conditions that reproduce the degradation observed in MEAs. We find that by extending the cycling potential window to 0.4-1.0 VRHE in an electrolyte containing Pt ions, the degraded particle size distribution and alloy composition better match that observed in MEAs. In particular, these conditions increase the relative contribution of Ostwald ripening, which appears to play a more significant role in the degradation of larger alloy particles supported on high-surface-area carbons than coalescence. Results from this work highlight the potential for discrepancies between ex situ aqueous experiments and MEA tests. While different catalysts may require a unique modification to the AST protocol, strategies provided in this work enable future in situ and identical-location experiments that will play an important role in the development of robust catalysts for heavy-duty vehicle applications.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)20418-20429
Number of pages12
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5900-81610


  • electrocatalyst degradation
  • identical-location scanning transmission electron microscopy
  • platinum cobalt alloy
  • proton exchange membrane fuel cell


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