X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy and Rotating Disk Electrode Measurements of Smooth Sputtered Fe-N-C Films

Andriy Zakutayev, Michael Dzara, Sadia Kabir, Svitlana Pylypenko, Kenneth Neyerlin, Yun Xu

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12 Scopus Citations


Electrocatalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) based on complexes of iron and nitrogen in a carbon matrix (Fe-N-C) are a promising alternative to platinum group metal (PGM) based catalysts in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Further improvements of Fe-N-C catalysts would benefit from model thin film studies of activity and stability of catalytic sites, but synthesis of Fe-N-C model thin films is challenging. Here we report on synthesis and characterization of Fe-N-C thin films produced by co-sputtering iron and carbon in a reactive nitrogen atmosphere onto removable glassy carbon rotating disk electrode (RDE) tips. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) measurements indicate that the Fe-N-C films deposited at high temperature are smoother than the films annealed at high temperature. Electrocatalytic activity measured on the thin Fe-N-C films is greater for both high-temperature samples than for the room-temperature sample. From the analysis of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) data, exposure of the films to high temperatures results in increased graphitization of the carbon within the Fe-N-C films, and increased relative amount of graphitic and hydrogenated nitrogen species. Overall, the results of this study demonstrate the feasibility of a thin film model system approach for studying active sites in PGM-free catalysts.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number146012
Number of pages7
JournalApplied Surface Science
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-76205


  • Magnetron sputtering
  • Model catalysts
  • Oxygen reduction reaction
  • Thin films
  • X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy


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