Nano-engineered catalysts, and a method of fabricating them, have been developed in a continuing effort to improve the performances of direct methanol fuel cells as candidate power sources to supplant primary and secondary batteries in a variety of portable electronic products. In order to realize the potential for high energy densities (as much as 1.5 W•h/g) of direct methanol fuel cells, it will be necessary to optimize the chemical compositions and geometric configurations of catalyst layers and electrode structures. High performance can be achieved when catalyst particles and electrode structures have the necessary small feature sizes (typically of the order of nanometers), large surface areas, optimal metal compositions, high porosity, and hydrophobicity.
The present method involves electrodeposition of one or more catalytic metal(s) or a catalytic-metal/polytetra- fluoroethylene nanocomposite on an alumina nanotemplate. The alumina nanotemplate is then dissolved, leaving the desired metal or metal/polytetrafluoro- ethylene-composite catalyst layer. Unlike some prior methods of making fine metal catalysts, this method does not involve processing at elevated temperature; all processing can be done at room temperature. In addition, this method involves fewer steps and is more amenable to scaling up for mass production.
Alumina nanotemplates are porous alumina membranes that have been fabricated, variously, by anodizing either pure aluminum or aluminum that has been deposited on silicon by electron-beam evaporation. The diameters of the pores (7 to 300 nm), areal densities of pores (as much as 7 × 1010 cm–2), and lengths of pores (up to about 100 nm) can be tailored by selection of fabrication conditions.
In a given case, the catalytic metal, catalytic metal alloy, or catalytic-metal/ polytetrafluoroethylene composite is electrodeposited in the pores of the alumina nanotemplate. The dimensions of the pores, together with the electrodeposition conditions, determine the sizes and surface areas of the catalytic particles. Hence, the small features and large surface areas of the porosity translate to the desired small particle size and large surface area of the catalyst (see figure).
When polytetrafluoroethylene is included, it is for the purpose of imparting hydrophobicity in order to prevent water from impeding the desired diffusion of gases through the catalyst layer. To incorporate polytetrafluoroethylene into a catalytic-metal/polytetrafluoroethylene nanocomposite, one suspends polytetrafluoroethylene nanoparticles in the electrodeposition solution. The polytetrafluoroethylene content can be varied to obtain the desired degree of hydrophobicity and permeability by gas.
This work was done by Nosang Myung, Sekharipuram Narayanan, and Dean Wiberg of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
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Refer to NPO-30840, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.