Direct formic acid fuel cells (DFAFCs) are promising portable energy conversion devices for supplying our off-grid energy demands. However, traditional Pt-based catalysts suffer from poor performance; consequently the precious metal loading in an actual fuel cell has to be maintained at a very high value, typically orders of magnitude higher than the acceptable level. Through a molecular self-assembly/electro-deposition process, Pt atoms are effectively dispersed onto the surface of a nanoporous gold substrate, and the resulting nanocomposites demonstrate superior electrocatalytic performance toward formic acid electro-oxidation, which can be attributed to a nearly ideal catalyst configuration where all the Pt atoms are involved in a highly desired direct reaction path. In both half-cell electrochemical testing and actual DFAFCs, these rationally designed electrodes show over two orders of magnitude improvement in Pt efficiency, as compared with the state-of-the-art Pt/C catalyst. This design strategy allows customized development of new generation electrocatalysts for high performance energy saving technologies.
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