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Atomic Structure of Pt3Ni Nanoframe Electrocatalysts by in Situ X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy

Becknell, Nigel, Kang, Yijin, Chen, Chen, Resasco, Joaquin, Kornienko, Nikolay, Guo, Jinghua, Markovic, Nenad M., Somorjai, Gabor A., Stamenkovic, Vojislav R., Yang, Peidong
Journal of the American Chemical Society 2015 v.137 no.50 pp. 15817-15824
X-ray absorption spectroscopy, carbon monoxide, catalysts, electrochemistry, energy, hydrogen, nickel, oxygen
Understanding the atomic structure of a catalyst is crucial to exposing the source of its performance characteristics. It is highly unlikely that a catalyst remains the same under reaction conditions when compared to as-synthesized. Hence, the ideal experiment to study the catalyst structure should be performed in situ. Here, we use X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) as an in situ technique to study Pt₃Ni nanoframe particles which have been proven to be an excellent electrocatalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). The surface characteristics of the nanoframes were probed through electrochemical hydrogen underpotential deposition and carbon monoxide electrooxidation, which showed that nanoframe surfaces with different structure exhibit varying levels of binding strength to adsorbate molecules. It is well-known that Pt-skin formation on Pt–Ni catalysts will enhance ORR activity by weakening the binding energy between the surface and adsorbates. Ex situ and in situ XAS results reveal that nanoframes which bind adsorbates more strongly have a rougher Pt surface caused by insufficient segregation of Pt to the surface and consequent Ni dissolution. In contrast, nanoframes which exhibit extremely high ORR activity simultaneously demonstrate more significant segregation of Pt over Ni-rich subsurface layers, allowing better formation of the critical Pt-skin. This work demonstrates that the high ORR activity of the Pt₃Ni hollow nanoframes depends on successful formation of the Pt-skin surface structure.