Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

John N. Kuhn


Catalysis, Cyclic Voltammetry, Electrocatalysis, Nanoparticles, Oxygen Reduction Reaction


In the search for alternative energy technologies, low temperature fuel cells continue to feature as technologies with the most promise for mass commercialization. Among the low temperature fuel cells, alkaline and proton exchange membrane fuel cells are the most popular. Alkaline fuel cells have typically been used for water generation as well as auxiliary power for space shuttles. Their bulkiness however makes them undesirable for other applications, especially in automobiles, where there is a great demand for alternative technologies to internal combustion engines. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells on the other hand possess numerous qualities including their compact size, high efficiency and versatility. Their mass implementation has however been delayed, because of cost among other reasons. Most of this cost is owed to the Pt/C catalyst that accounts for about half of the price of the PEM Fuel Cell. This catalyst is used to drive the sluggish oxygen reduction reaction that occurs at the cathode of the PEM Fuel Cell.

To overcome this obstacle, which is to make PEM Fuel Cell technology more affordable, reducing the amount Pt has traditionally been the approach. Another approach has been to find new ideal catalyst-support combinations that increase the intrinsic activity of the supported material. One more strategy has been to find lower cost alternative materials to Pt through synthetic and kinetic manipulations to rival or exceed the current oxygen reduction reaction activity benchmark.

To this end, Palladium has garnered significant interest as a monometallic entity. Its manipulation through synthetic chemistry to achieve different morphologies - which favor select lattice planes - in turn promotes the oxygen reduction reaction to different degrees. In bimetallic or, in more recent times multimetallic frameworks, geometric and ligand effects can be used to form ideal compositions and morphologies that are synergistic for improved oxygen reduction reaction kinetics.

In this dissertation, we have explored three different approaches to make contributions to the catalysis and electrocatalysis body of literature. In the first instance, we look at the influence of ligand effects through the active incorporation of a PVP capping agent on the stability of ~3nm Pt NPs. Washed (no capping agent) and unwashed (with capping agent) batches of NPs were evaluated via cyclic voltammogram analyses to evaluate differences there might be between them. It was found that the current density measurements for unwashed particle batches were higher. This increase in current density was attributed to the monodentate and bidentate ligand bonding from the PVP, which increased as a function of cycle number and plateaued when the PVP was completely decomposed. The complete decomposition of PVP during the CV experiment was estimated to occur around 200 cycles.

The remaining portion of the dissertation explores the electrocatalytic properties of Palladium based NPs. The first instance, a monometallic study of Palladium cubes and dendrites was aimed at building on a recent publication on the enhanced ORR activity that was achieved with a PdPt bimetallic dendrite morphology. In our work, we sought to isolate the dendritic morphology properties of the monometallic Pd composition in order to understand what advantages could be achieved via this morphology. Pd cubes were used as a comparison, since they could be generated through the combination of a similar set of reagents simply by switching the order of addition. It was found that while there was no significant variation in the ORR activity as a function of morphology / shape, there was an interesting interaction between hydrogen and the palladium NPs in the hydrogen oxidation region that varied as a function of shape. This led to further sorption and ethylene hydrogenation studies, which suggested that, the interaction between hydrogen and Pd depended on the environment. Within the electrochemical environment, the ECSA measured, suggested that hydrogen was being reversibly absorbed into the sub-surface octahedral sites of Pd. The higher ECSA for Pd cubes corroborated with higher sorption for Pd cubes as well. However ethylene hydrogenation showed that the fringes of the Pd dendrites provided additional sites for reaction, which in turn translated to higher conversion. Furthermore, through a Koutecky-Levich analysis, it was found out that the Pd dendrites while exhibiting slightly lower activity, favored the 4-electron oxygen reduction process more than the Pd cubes.

In the last part of this dissertation we explored the electrocatalytic properties of Pd-based bimetallic NPs under different morphologies including nanocages and sub-10nm alloys. With the inclusion of Ag, it was found out, through Koutecky-Levich analysis that the 4-electron process was better observed under alkaline conditions using a 0.1M NaOH(aq) electrolyte solution instead of a 0.1M HClO4 (aq) for acidic media testing. It was found that, for PdAg nanocage morphologies, where the Pd galvanically replaced the Ag to form cages, the four-electron process was suited to thinner Pd shells. Indeed the average electron numbers measured for Ag nanocubes coated with a 6nm shell was in agreement, within reason of literature values for bulk Ag. However, since the binding energy that both metals have for OH is so close, the potential for contributions to the ORR kinetics in alkaline media by Pd is a potential consideration.