Dual-axial engineering on atomically dispersed catalysts for ultrastable oxygen reduction in acidic and alkaline solutions

Meng Dan, Xiting Zhang, Yongchao Yang, Jingfei Yang, Fengxiu Wu, Shenlong Zhao*, Zhao- Qing Liu*
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 121(6),  e318174121, (2024)
DOI:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2318174121

Abstract

Atomically dispersed catalysts are a promising alternative to platinum group metal catalysts for catalyzing the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR), while limited durability during the electrocatalytic process severely restricts their practical application. Here, we report an atomically dispersed Co-doped carbon−nitrogen bilayer catalyst with unique dual-axial Co–C bonds (denoted as Co/DACN) by a smart phenyl-carbon-induced strategy, realizing highly efficient electrocatalytic ORR in both alkaline and acidic media. The corresponding half-wave potential for ORR is up to 0.85 and 0.77 V (vs. reversible hydrogen electrode (RHE)) in 0.5 M H2SO4 and 0.1 M KOH, respectively, representing the best ORR activity among all non-noble metal catalysts reported to date. Impressively, the Zn–air battery (ZAB) equipped with Co/DACN cathode achieves outstanding durability after 1,688 h operation at 10 mA cm−2 with a high current density (154.2 mA cm−2) and a peak power density (210.1 mW cm−2). Density functional theory calculations reveal that the unique dual-axial cross-linking Co−C bonds of Co/DACN significantly enhance the stability during ORR and also facilitate the 4e− ORR pathway by forming a joint electron pool due to the improved interlayer electron mobility. We believe that axial engineering opens a broad avenue to develop high-performance heterogeneous electrocatalysts for advanced energy conversion and storage.