Formation of Porous Metallic Nanostructures Electrocatalytic Studies on Self-Assembled Au@Pt Nanoparticulate Films, and SERS Activity of Inkjet Printed Silver Substrates
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Porous, conductive metallic nanostructures are required in several fields, such as energy conversion, low-cost sensors etc. This thesis reports on the development of an electrocatalytically active and conductive membrane for use in Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFCs) and fabrication of low-cost substrates for Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS). One of the main challenges facing large-scale deployment of PEMFCs currently is to fabricate a catalyst layer that minimizes platinum loading, maximizes eletrocatalytically active area, and maximizes tolerance to CO in the feed stream. Modeling the kinetics of platinum catalyzed half cell reactions occurring in a PEMFC using the kinetic theory of gases and incorporating appropriate sticking coefficients provides a revealing insight that there is scope for an order of magnitude increase in maximum current density achievable from PEMFCs. To accomplish this, losses due to concentration polarization in gas diffusion layers, which occur at high current densities, need to be eliminated. A novel catalyst design, based on a porous metallic nanostructure, which aims to overcome the limitations of concentration polarization as well as minimize the amount of platinum loading in PEMFCs is proposed. Fabrication steps involving controlled in-plane fusion of self-assembled arrays of core-shell gold-platinum nanoparticles (Au@Pt) is envisioned. The key steps involved being the development of a facile synthesis route to form Au@Pt nanoparticles with tunable platinum shell thicknesses in the 5 nm size range, the formation of large-scale 2D arrays of Au@Pt nanoparticles using guided self-assembly, and optimization of an RF plasma process to promote in-plane fusion of the nanoparticles to form porous, electrocatalytically active and electrically conductive membranes. This thesis consists of seven chapters. The first chapter provides an introduction into the topic of PEMFCs, some perspective on the current status of research and development of PEMFCs, and an outline of the thesis. The second chapter provides an overview on the methods used, characterization techniques employed and protocols followed for sample preparation. The third chapter describes the modelling of a PEMFC using the Kinetic theory of gases to arrive at an estimate of the maximum feasible current density, based on the kinetics of the electrocatalytic reactions. The fourth chapter presents the development of a simple protocol for synthesizing Au@Pt nanoparticles with control over platinum shell thicknesses from the sub monolayer coverage onwards. The results of spectroscopic and microscopic characterization establish the uniformity of coating and the absence of secondary nucleation. Chapter five describes the formation of a nanoporous, electrocatalytically active membrane by self-assembly to form bilayers of 2D arrays of Au@Pt nanoparticles and subsequent fusion using an RF plasma based process. The evolution of the electrocatalytic activity and electrical conductivity as a function of the duration of RF plasma treatment is monitored for Au@Pt nanoparticles with various extent of platinum coating. Spectroscopic, microscopic, electrical and cyclic voltammetry characterization of the samples at various stages were used to understand the structural evolution with RF plasma treatment duration and discussed. Next durability studies were carried out on the nanoporous, Au@Pt bilayer nanoparticle array with an optimum composition of Pt/Au atomic ratio of 0.88 treated to 16 minutes of argon plasma exposure. After this the novel catalyst membrane design of PEM fuel cell is revisited. Two different techniques are proposed so that the thin, nanoporous, metallic catalyst membrane achieves horizontal electronic resistance equivalent to that of the conventional gas diffusion layer with catalyst layer. The first technique proposes the introduction of gold coated polymeric mesh in between the thin, nanoporous, metallic catalyst membrane and bipolar plate and discusses the advantages. Later the gold coated polymeric mesh is introduced in a conventional membrane electrode assembly and efficiency of the polarization curves probed with and without the introduction of gold coated polymeric mesh. The second technique describes the results of fabrication of a nanoporous metallic membrane using multiple layers of 2D Au@Pt nanoparticle arrays at an optimum composition of Pt/Au atomic ratio of 0.88 to reduce the horizontal electronic resistance. Preliminary studies on the permeability of water through such membranes supported on a porous polycarbonate filter membrane are also presented. In chapter six, a simple reactive inkjet printing process for fabricating SERS active silver nanostructures on paper is presented. The process adapts a simple room temperature protocol, using tannic acid as the reducing agent, developed earlier in our group to fabricate porous silver nanostructures on paper using a commercial office inkjet printer. The results of SERS characterization, spectroscopic and microscopic characterizations of the samples and the comparison of the substrate’s long-term performance with respect to a substrate fabricated using sodium borohydride as the reducing agent is discussed. Preliminary findings on attempts to fabricate a conductive silver network using RF plasma induced fusion area also presented. Chapter seven provides a summary of the results, draws conclusions and a perspective on work required to accomplish the goals of incorporating the porous metallic nanostructures into PEMFCs.
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