Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Chemical & Biochemical Engineering
Alan W. Weimer
J. Will Medlin
Demand for energy continues to increase, and without alternatives to fossil fuel combustion the effects on our environment will become increasingly severe. Fuel cells offer a promising improvement on current methods of energy generation; they are able to convert hydrogen fuel into electricity with a theoretical efficiency of up to 83% and interface smoothly with renewable hydrogen production. Fuel cells can replace internal combustion engines in vehicles and are used in stationary applications to power homes and businesses. The efficiency of a fuel cell is maximized by its catalyst, which is often composed of platinum nanoparticles supported on carbon. Economical production of fuel cell catalysts will promote adoption of this technology. Atomic layer deposition (ALD) is a possible method for producing catalysts at a large scale when employed in a fluidized bed. ALD relies on sequential dosing of gas-phase precursors to grow a material layer by layer. We have synthesized platinum nanoparticles on a carbon particle support (Pt/C) by ALD for use in proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) and electrochemical hydrogen pumps. Platinum nanoparticles with different characteristics were deposited by changing two chemistries: the carbon substrate through functionalization; and the deposition process by use of either oxygen or hydrogen as ligand removing reactants. The metal depositing reactant was trimethyl(methylcyclopentadienyl)platinum(IV). Functionalizing the carbon substrate increased nucleation during deposition resulting in smaller and more dispersed nanoparticles. Use of hydrogen produced smaller nanoparticles than oxygen, due to a gentler hydrogenation reaction compared to using oxygen's destructive combustion reaction. Synthesized Pt/C materials were used as catalysts in an electrochemical hydrogen pump, a device used to separate hydrogen fuel from contaminants. Catalysts deposited by ALD on functionalized carbon using a hydrogen chemistry were the most successful hydrogen pumping catalysts, comparable to a commercial Pt/C catalyst. Synthesized Pt/C materials were also used as PEMFC catalysts. We found the ALD catalysts with lower platinum loading to be competitive with a commercial fuel cell catalyst, especially when exhibiting similar platinum particle characteristics. The functionalized carbon helped produce smaller and more dispersed platinum particles; however, it encouraged carbon corrosion within an electrode, severing electrical connections and lowering energy production. The most suitable chemistry for competitive Pt/C catalysts was produced by platinum ALD on unmodified carbon using hydrogen as a reactant. ALD is a promising method for fabricating electrocatalysts, which could help fuel cells become an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Lubers, Alia Marie, "Synthesis of Platinum Nanoparticle Electrocatalysts by Atomic Layer Deposition" (2015). Chemical & Biological Engineering Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 80.