Date of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Applied Science (MASc)


Materials Science and Engineering


Gianluigi Botton




Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) are a technology of high interest for the automotive and power generation industry. The catalyst layer plays a critical role in fuel cells as it is responsible for catalyzing hydrogen oxidation and oxygen reduction to generate electricity. The current challenge in catalyst development is to produce highly active and economical catalysts. This challenge cannot be overcome without an accurate understanding of catalyst surfaces and morphology since the catalytic reactions occur on the surface active sites. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is an excellent tool to understand the structures of the nanoparticles down to the atomic level in determining the relationship with the catalyst’s performance in fuel cell applications. Platinum (Pt) is one of the best commercially available catalysts for PEMFC due to its highly active, inert, and relatively stable properties. However, Pt is a rare precious metal due to its low abundance and high demand. Further research is aimed at developing highly active and more economical catalysts in order to mass produce PEMFC. A strategic approach is to use platinum bimetallic alloys, which greatly reduce the platinum loading as they enhance the oxygen reduction reaction. A detailed understanding of the nanoparticle surface is critical as the catalyst surface strongly determines its catalytic activity. Furthermore, another challenge in utilizing fuel cells is the life-time of the catalysts. It is known that electrochemical cycling affects Pt alloys. As a result, the understanding of the effect of electrochemical treatments on the catalyst’s v morphology and composition is key to improving the fuel cell’s performance and durability. This thesis demonstrates that through the use of TEM, useful insights regarding the morphology, surfaces, and compositions of the catalysts can be gained and contribute to the improvement in catalyst development for next generation fuel cells.

McMaster University Library

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