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Bridging the gap between highly active oxygen reduction reaction catalysts and effective catalyst layers for proton exchange membrane fuel cells


Ultralow platinum loading and high catalytic performance at the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) level are essential for reducing the cost of proton exchange membrane fuel cells. The past decade has seen substantial progress in developing a variety of highly active platinum-based catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction. However, these high activities are almost exclusively obtained from rotating disk electrode (RDE) measurements and have rarely translated into MEA performance. In this Review, we elucidate the intrinsic limitations that lead to a persistent failure to transfer catalysts’ high RDE activities into maximized MEA performance. We discuss catalyst-layer engineering strategies for controlling mass transport resistances at local catalyst sites, in the bulk of the catalyst layer and at the interfaces of the MEA to achieve high performance with ultralow platinum loading. We also examine promising intermediate testing methods for closing the gap between RDE and MEA experiments.

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Fig. 1: Evolution of market size for fuel-cell electrical vehicles (FCEVs), and cost breakdown of FCEVs alongside production rate.
Fig. 2: Performance of state-of-the-art catalysts evaluated in RDE and MEA.
Fig. 3: Comparison of RDE and MEA in catalyst assessment.
Fig. 4: Sources of mass transport resistance inside the MEA of a PEMFC.
Fig. 5: Mass transport improvement strategies.
Fig. 6: Mass transport enhancement at interfaces.
Fig. 7: Intermediate testing configurations.


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We thank the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2018YFB1502503, 2020YFB1505800), the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Energy Materials for Electric Power (2018B030322001), the Foundation Research Project of Shenzhen the Natural Science Fund (JCYJ20200109141216566), the Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Hydrogen Energy (ZDSYS2016033110134898) and the Technology Projects for Sustainable Development (KCXFZ202002011010317).

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Correspondence to Hui Li.

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S.Y. is employed by SinoHykey Technology Guangzhou Co. Ltd, which manufactures MEAs/fuel cells. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Energy thanks Di-Jia Liu, Alejandro Martinez-Bonastre and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Fan, J., Chen, M., Zhao, Z. et al. Bridging the gap between highly active oxygen reduction reaction catalysts and effective catalyst layers for proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Nat Energy 6, 475–486 (2021).

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