The huge consumption of the fossil fuel has led to the environmental pollution and energy crisis. It is foreseeable that, in the near future, the limited carbon-based fossil energy will be replaced by the endless renewable energy, among which the fuel cells and metal-air batteries are the best candidates.
Pt catalyst used in the fuel cells is so expensive which accounts for about 20% of the total cost of the fuel cell. The high cost limits the wide applications of fuel cells. Therefore, the development of low-cost electrocatalytic materials with high activity and stability still remains a challenge.
Recently, Prof. WANG Jiacheng from Shanghai Institute of Ceramics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the collaborators discovered that zirconium nitride (ZrN) catalyst based on cheap earth-abundant elements is a highly attractive alternative to Pt for oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in alkaline environments. ZrN catalyst features low cost, high activity and superior stability. The study was published in Nature Materials.
The researchers produced fine ZrN nanoparticles (NPs) using a urea–glass route at moderate temperatures. They showed that ZrN can replace and even surpass Pt as a catalyst for oxygen reduction in alkaline environments.
In addition, ZrN has a higher stability than the Pt/C catalyst. In a zinc-air battery device, the performance of commercial Pt catalysts deteriorates significantly after a period of time; while the performance of ZrN catalysts deteriorates much more slowly.
In the future, the research team will bring the research outcome into application in the clean energy.
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