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Electroanalytical Assessment of the Effect of Ni:Fe Stoichiometry and Architectural Expression on the Bifunctional Activity of Nanoscale NiyFe1–yOx

Ko, Jesse S., Chervin, Christopher N., Vila, Mallory N., DeSario, Paul A., Parker, Joseph F., Long, Jeffrey W., Rolison, Debra R.
Langmuir 2017 v.33 no.37 pp. 9390-9397
aerogels, catalytic activity, crystallites, crystallization, ferrimagnetic materials, heat treatment, nickel, oxygen, oxygen production, stoichiometry, surface area
Electrocatalysis of the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) and oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) was assessed for a series of Ni-substituted ferrites (NiyFe₁–yOx, where y = 0.1 to 0.9) as expressed in porous, high-surface-area forms (ambigel and aerogel nanoarchitectures). We then correlate electrocatalytic activity with Ni:Fe stoichiometry as a function of surface area, crystallite size, and free volume. In order to ensure in-series comparisons, calcination at 350 °C/air was necessary to crystallize the respective NiyFe₁–yOx nanoarchitectures, which index to the inverse spinel structure for Fe-rich materials (y ≤ 0.33), rock salt for the most Ni-rich material (y = 0.9), and biphasic for intermediate stoichiometry (0.5 ≤ y ≤ 0.67). In the intermediate Ni:Fe stoichiometric range (0.33 ≤ y ≤ 0.67), the OER current density at 390 mV increases monotonically with increasing Ni content and increasing surface area, but with different working curves for ambigels versus aerogels. At a common stoichiometry within this range, ambigels and aerogels yield comparable OER performance, but do so by expressing larger crystallite size (ambigel) versus higher surface area (aerogel). Effective OER activity can be achieved without requiring supercritical-fluid extraction as long as moderately high surface area, porous materials can be prepared. We find improved OER performance (η decreases from 390 to 373 mV) for Ni₀.₆₇Fe₀.₃₃Ox aerogel heat-treated at 300 °C/Ar, owing to an increase in crystallite size (2.7 to 4.1 nm). For the ORR, electrocatalytic activity favors Fe-rich NiyFe₁–yOx materials; however, as the Ni-content increases beyond y = 0.5, a two-electron reduction pathway is still exhibited, demonstrating that bifunctional OER and ORR activity may be possible by choosing a nickel ferrite nanoarchitecture that provides high OER activity with sufficient ORR activity. Assessing the catalytic activity requires an appreciation of the multivariate interplay among Ni:Fe stoichiometry, surface area, crystallographic phase, and crystallite size.