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Nat Nanotechnol. 2015 May;10(5):444-52. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2015.48. Epub 2015 Apr 6.

A metal-free bifunctional electrocatalyst for oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution reactions.

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Center of Advanced Science and Engineering for Carbon (Case4carbon), Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA.
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Chemistry, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas 76203, USA.


The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) and oxygen evolution reaction (OER) are traditionally carried out with noble metals (such as Pt) and metal oxides (such as RuO₂ and MnO₂) as catalysts, respectively. However, these metal-based catalysts often suffer from multiple disadvantages, including high cost, low selectivity, poor stability and detrimental environmental effects. Here, we describe a mesoporous carbon foam co-doped with nitrogen and phosphorus that has a large surface area of ∼1,663 m(2) g(-1) and good electrocatalytic properties for both ORR and OER. This material was fabricated using a scalable, one-step process involving the pyrolysis of a polyaniline aerogel synthesized in the presence of phytic acid. We then tested the suitability of this N,P-doped carbon foam as an air electrode for primary and rechargeable Zn-air batteries. Primary batteries demonstrated an open-circuit potential of 1.48 V, a specific capacity of 735 mAh gZn(-1) (corresponding to an energy density of 835 Wh kgZn(-1)), a peak power density of 55 mW cm(-2), and stable operation for 240 h after mechanical recharging. Two-electrode rechargeable batteries could be cycled stably for 180 cycles at 2 mA cm(-2). We also examine the activity of our carbon foam for both OER and ORR independently, in a three-electrode configuration, and discuss ways in which the Zn-air battery can be further improved. Finally, our density functional theory calculations reveal that the N,P co-doping and graphene edge effects are essential for the bifunctional electrocatalytic activity of our material.


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