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Saving Organic Electrodes in Lithium-Ion Batteries

Organic compounds with conjugated electron structures are emerging as promising Li-ion battery cathodes due to their high capacity and environmental benignity. To make these cathodes practically feasible, organic electrodes are typically incorporated with metal ions to boost their energy densities. The addition of metal ions, however, usually jeopardizes the structural integrity of the electrodes and shortens battery lifetime.

Recently, three groups of Chinese researchers demonstrated that increasing the electrolyte concentration could effectively prolong the lifespan of metal-incorporated organic cathodes. The researchers studied cuprous tetracyano-quinodimethane (CuTCNQ), a Cu2+-containing organic Li-ion battery cathode, and observed its significantly improved cycling stability in a 7 M LiClO4 electrolyte compared to a 1 M electrolyte. This work was published recently in ChemComm.

CuTCNQ in a typical diluted electrolyte of 1 M LiClO4 exhibited unsatisfactory stability. Its first-cycle charging capacity reached ~180 mAh/g, but it dropped appreciably to 23 mAh/g after the first discharging process (Figure 1a). Concurrently, the electrolyte turned from clear to yellow (Figure 1b), due to the dissolution of TCNQ. These observations unequivocally showed the rapid disintegration of CuTCNQ in diluted electrolytes.

Figure 1. (a) The first-cycle charge-discharge profile of CuTCNQ in a liquid electrolyte containing ethylene carbonate (EC), propylene carbonate (PC) and 1 M LiClO4 (1 M LiClO4-EC/PC). (b) Photographs showing the electrolyte color before and after the first charge-discharge cycle.

CuTCNQ was found to be more stable in electrolytes with concentrations higher than 1 M. When the LiClO4 concentration increased to 3 M, 5 M and 7 M, the specific capacities of CuTCNQ retained after 50 consecutive charge-discharge cycles were ~25 mAh/g, ~70 mAh/g, and ~110 mAh/g, respectively (Figure 2a). All of these capacities were higher than that of CuTCNQ in 1 M LiClO4 after the same cycle number (<10 mAh/g). Additionally, the electrolytes experienced nearly no color change, suggesting little TCNQ was dissolved (Figure 2b).

The elevated stability of CuTCNQ correlates to the formation of Li+-ClO4 ion pairs in concentrated electrolytes (Figure 2c). With increasing LiClO4 concentration, Li+ and ClO4 tend to form ion pairs that coordinate with solvent molecules. Solvent-coordination reduces the number of free solvent molecules that can dissolve TCNQ, thus minimizing the dissolution of TCNQ.

Figure 2. (a) The cycling stability performances of CuTCNQ with electrolytes with different LiClO4 concentrations. (b) Photographs showing the electrolyte color before and after 50 charge-discharge cycles at different LiClO4 concentrations. (c) Li+ and ClO4- form solvent-coordinated ion pairs in super-concentrated electrolytes (e.g., 7 M).

This work provides a facile approach to mitigate the capacity fading of CuTCNQ. The strategy may be extended to stabilize other metal-incorporated organic cathodes in Li-ion batteries.

To find out more please read:

Sustainable Cycling Enabled by A High-Concentration Electrolyte for Lithium-Organic Batteries

Ying Huang, Chun Fang, Wang Zhang, Qingju Liu and Yunhui Huang

Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 608-611

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Shrinking the Size of Hydrogen Evolution Catalysts by Carbon Coating

Hydrogen gas is a zero-emission energy resource promising to replace diminishing fossil fuels. The electrolysis of water is a sustainable way to acquire hydrogen gas, but this non-spontaneous process demands electricity to proceed. Therefore, hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) catalysts are used to reduce the energy cost or overpotential of the electrolysis.

Researchers are pursuing ultrafine nanoparticles as HER catalysts due to their high catalytic activity. For example, the HER catalytic activities of Ru nanoparticles are reportedly 100-200% higher than those of bulk Ru catalysts. Unfortunately, the preparation of well-dispersed nanoparticles is challenging because nanoparticles are prone to aggregate together.

Recently in ChemComm, Fuqiang Chu, Yong Qin and coworkers from Changzhou University, China addressed the challenge. They utilized a Ru-based coordination complex and cyanuric acid as the reactants, and synthesized high-performance HER catalysts composed of ~2 nm Ru nanoparticles uniformly dispersed on graphene sheets. During the thermal annealing step in the synthesis, the ligands of the complex and the cyanuric acid both decompose to nitrogen-doped carbon shells covering the as-formed Ru nanoparticles. These shells serve as spacers that prevent particle aggregation (Figure 1).

Figure 1. An illustration of the synthesis of carbon-coated Ru ultrafine nanoparticles on graphene sheets. Tris(2,2′-bipyrindine) ruthenium dichloride is the precursor of the Ru nanoparticles.

In both the acidic and the alkaline electrolytes, the 2 nm Ru particles (RuNC-2) display lower overpotentials and higher current densities than the 5 nm Ru particles (Figure 2) without the carbon coating (RuNC-5). Remarkably, the 2 nm particles showed comparable performance to the benchmark Pt catalyst in the acidic electrolyte (the red and black curves in Figure 2a).

Figure 2. Linear sweep voltammograms of ~3 nm Pt nanoparticles (PtNC), 2 nm Ru nanoparticles (RuNC-2) and 5 nm Ru nanoparticles (RuNC-5) in (a) 0.5 M H2SO4 and (b) 1 M KOH aqueous solutions.

The concept of the in-situ generation of protective coatings could inspire the synthesis of other ultra-small nanoparticles to potentially push the HER catalytic performance to new heights.

 

To find out more please read:

An Ultrafine Ruthenium Nanocrystal with Extremely High Activity for the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction in Both Acidic and Alkaline Media

Yutong Li, Fuqiang Chu, Yang Liu, Yong Kong, Yongxin Tao, Yongxin Li and Yong Qin

Chem. Commun., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc08276f

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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The Birth of a Semiconducting Metal Organic Framework by Sulfur Coordination

Metal organic frameworks (MOFs) are crystalline nanomaterials composed of metal ions or clusters coordinated with organic ligands. Owing to the versatility of their building blocks, MOFs have multiple functionalities and can serve as gas separators, sensors, catalysts, electrode materials etc. Now the structure diversity of MOFs is further enriched by Wu and coworkers from Soochow University, China. Specifically, the researchers synthesized a semiconducting MOF with tetra-coordinated sulfur units. This breakthrough was recently published in ChemComm.

The uniqueness of the synthesized semiconducting MOF (MCOF-89) is its square-planar tetra-coordinated metal-sulfur structure, which is observed in MOFs for the first time. It was believed that putting a sulfur atom next to a metal node of MOFs was extremely difficult, because of the large discrepancy in bonding energy between metal-sulfur bonds and conventional metal-carboxylate bonds. Incorporating sulfur atoms thereby could undermine the structural stability of MOFs.

The authors addressed this challenge by designing a tetra-coordination environment as illustrated in Figure 1. The four manganese-sulfur bonds effectively reinforced the unstable S coordination. MCOF-89 was synthesized via a solvothermal reaction with Mn(CH3COO)2 and thiourea as the Mn and S sources, respectively.

Figure 1. The structure of MCOF-89. The illustration on the left is a three-dimensional lattice structure (the red, green and yellow balls represent oxygen, manganese and sulfur), and the structure on the right shows the Mn-S square-planar tetra-coordination configuration (M = manganese).

The synthesized S-incorporated MOF is a semiconductor with a bandgap of 2.82 eV. Additionally, this MOF is photoactive and is able to generate a photocurrent of ~1.9 µA/cm2 upon light irradiation.

This work exemplifies how molecular design can lead to the discovery of novel MOFs with extraordinary structures. It could also inspire other synthesis protocols toward various metal-chalcogenide-containing MOFs with unexpected properties.

 

To find out more please read:

A Semiconducting Metal-Chalcogenide–Organic Framework with Square-Planar Tetra-Coordinated Sulfur

Huajun Yang, Min Luo, Zhou Wu, Wei Wang, Chaozhuang Xue and Tao Wu

Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 11272-11275

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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How do Anions Fight Indoor Organic Contaminants?

Indoor air quality is critical to public health. Chronic exposure to indoor organic contaminants (IOCs), including aldehydes and benzene homologues, substantially increases the risk of having respiratory diseases. In recent years, negative air ions (NAIs) have emerged as promising materials to decompose IOCs. NAIs are negatively charged ions generated via ionizing air. However, the limited understanding of the decomposition reaction mechanisms hinders the safety evaluation and wide adoption of NAI-cleaning.

A group of Chinese researchers led by Jin-Ming Lin of Tsinghua University recently demonstrated in ChemComm a powerful tool to unveil the reaction mechanisms. They built a system integrated with an NAI generator, an IOC sprayer and a mass spectrometer (Figure 1). NAIs containing mostly CO3 were produced by the ionization of air. These anions then mixed and reacted with the sprayer-delivered IOCs in front of the mass spectrometer inlet. All species generated during the reactions were directly brought into the mass spectrometer by inert N2 for characterization.

Figure 1. The experimental set-up of the integrated system.

This device revealed real-time reaction kinetics by identifying the reaction intermediates. The mass spectrum of a common IOC, formaldehyde, when reacted with CO3 is presented in Figure 2a. Two pronounced peaks with mass to charge ratios (m/z) of 45.10 and 60.10 were assigned to HCOO and CO3, respectively. Additionally, the 45.10 peak was only detected when formaldehyde was present (Figure 2b). On the basis of these observations, the authors concluded that the major pathway of formaldehyde degradation by CO3was the reaction between CO3 and the α-H atom of the aldehyde group. With identical instrumentation, the authors also proposed how the reactions between CO3 and benzene homologues or esters may proceed.

Figure 2. (a) The mass spectrum of reaction intermediates between CO3 and 10 ppm formaldehyde. (b) The change of peak intensities of m/z = 60.10 and 45.10 peaks with the operation time. Formaldehyde was present during 7.0-14.0 min.

The results obtained by this study could greatly deepen the understanding of NAI-based chemistry. It could also be useful to investigate kinetics of a broad range of other chemical reactions involving charged reactants.

 

To find out more please read:

Real-Time Characterization of Negative Air Ion-Induced Decomposition of Indoor Organic Contaminants by Mass Spectrometry

Ling Lin, Yu Li, Mashooq Khan, Jiashu Sun and Jin-Ming Li

Chem. Commun., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc05795h

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Kicking Air Out: Recycling Xenon with ZIF-8 Metal Organic Framework

Xenon (Xe) is a noble gas that is widely used in lighting industry and medical imaging. Due to its trace amount in air and the energy-consuming, labor-intensive manufacturing process, Xe has a market price approximately 100 times higher than nitrogen gas (N2). Therefore, recycling Xe is practically necessary and economically appealing.

Recently in ChemComm, scientists from Colorado School of Mines (U.S.) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (U.S.) demonstrated an effective method to recover Xe from Xe/air mixtures. The key material this approach needs is a thin piece of film made of a microporous crystalline metal organic framework (MOF)—ZIF-8 (zeolite imidazole framework-8).

The unique porous structure of ZIF-8 renders it capable of separating Xe from N2 and O2. The pore size of ZIF-8 is in the range of 0.4-0.42 nm, and the sizes of Xe, N2 and O2 molecules are 0.41 nm, ~0.36 nm and ~0.35 nm, respectively. When Xe/air mixtures are pushed towards a ZIF-8 film, the small N2 and O2 molecules are able to permeate the film while the relatively large Xe molecules are blocked. This results in the separation of Xe from N2/O2. The ZIF-8 film in this case serves as a gas sieve (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A ZIF-8 MOF film functions as a molecular sieve that separates Xe from N2 and O2. The pores of ZIF-8 are large enough to pass through N2 and O2 molecules but are too small for Xe to enter.

The mechanism mentioned above was experimentally verified. The researchers observed that the flow rate of air through a ~10 µm ZIF-8 film was almost 10 times higher than that of Xe. In addition, reducing the film thickness and lowering the temperature were found to enhance the separation efficiency.

This work clearly demonstrates the promising performance of ZIF-8 for gas separation. It also highlights the versatile functionalities of MOFs.

 

To find out more please read:

Recovery of Xenon from Air over ZIF-8 Membranes

Ting Wu, Jolie Lucero, Michael A. Sinnwell, Praveen K. Thallapally and Moises A. Carreon

Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 8976-8979

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Better Make It A Double

Synthesizing nanomaterials consisting of two-particle pairs, or dimers, is no longer a headache. Hongyu Chen and coworkers from Nanjing Tech University, China recently developed a protocol that can produce gold dimers with a record high yield. This breakthrough is published in Chem. Commun.

Dimers are suitable platforms to study the effects of particle-particle interactions on the electrical and optical properties of the constituent materials. Unfortunately, no conventional synthesis methods to exclusively produce dimers from single particles have been successful. This is because of the uncontrollable particle-aggregation rate that leads to the formation of multi-particle clusters. Therefore, how to couple single particles into dimers without triggering their further aggregation has become a tough nut to crack.

Chen and coworkers found a solution by developing a polymer-assisted method that generates gold dimers with high yield. Firstly, they encapsulated individual gold nanoparticles with polymer shells made of polystyrene-b-poly(acrylic acid). Under optimized conditions, the gold nanoparticles were mostly coupled into dimers (Figure 1), achieving a dimer yield of 65%. This is the highest dimer yield achieved for one-step synthesis methods.

Figure 1. (a) A transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image of the polymer-encapsulated gold single particles. (b) A TEM image and (c) a scanning electron microscopy image of the synthesized gold dimers. All scale bars are 200 nm.

The key to this success is due to three factors: temperature, solvent composition and acid concentration. All these factors can change the strength of the repulsion force among the polymer shells. The force must be meticulously tuned to a level that is weak enough to induce 1-to-1 coupling, but strong enough to prevent 1-to-multiple or multiple-to-multiple aggregation. Through a set of control experiments, the authors identified the optimal conditions to be 60 oC, dimethylformamide/water (v/v)=6:1 and 5 mM of hydrochloric acid.

The method demonstrated herein could be extended to other particles. It may also inspire versatile synthesis strategies towards complex nanostructures with high selectivity.

 

To find out more please read:

Controllable Oligomerization: Defying Step-Growth Kinetics in the Polymerization of Gold Nanoparticles

Xuejun Cheng, Gui Zhao, Yan Lu, Miao Yan, Hong Wang and Hongyu Chen

Chem. Sci., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/C8CC03424A

 

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Pt3Ni-Coated Palladium Nano-branches Outperformed Pt in Catalyzing Ethanol Oxidation

Researchers in China recently developed a new Pd-based catalyst that outperformed Pt, the benchmark catalyst for electrochemical oxidation of ethanol. This catalyst, synthesized by a one-pot chemical reduction method, consists of branched Pd nanocrystals coated with thin Pt3Ni shells.

The ethanol oxidation reaction (EOR) is a typical anode reaction that drives the energy output from fuel cells. Due to its intrinsically slow kinetics, the reaction requires proper EOR catalysts to facilitate the oxidation. Pt-based materials are highly active in promoting EOR, but the scarcity of Pt leads to high costs and demands efficient methods to recycle these materials. In addition, the instable catalytic activity of Pt significantly reduces the lifetime of EOR catalysts containing Pt. Clearly, developing inexpensive EOR catalysts with comparable performance to Pt is meaningful for the affordability and durability of fuel cells.

A research team led by Shuifen Xie at Huaqiao University and Shenzhen Research Institute of Xiamen University in China, have demonstrated a one-pot chemical reduction method of a novel EOR catalyst. This catalyst is made of Pt3Ni-coated Pd nanocrystals as shown in Figure 1. There are three main advantages for this catalyst over the benchmark Pt: Firstly, the core material Pd is more affordable. Secondly, the ultrathin Pt-alloy coating, Pt3Ni, contains relatively less Pt and is reported to exhibit high EOR catalytic activity. Thirdly, the little lattice mismatch between Pt and Pd allows seamless integration of the two metals that is beneficial to preserve the structural integrity and ensure excellent durability.

Figure 1. (a) The schematic illustration showing the key steps of the one-pot chemical reduction method. The catalyst is formed via consecutive reduction of Pd2+, Pt2+ and Ni2+ to Pd nano-branches, Pt nanoparticles and Pt3Ni coatings, respectively. (b) A TEM image of a representative morphology of a branched nanocrystal. (c) Elemental mappings depict that Pt and Ni elements exist mainly in the shell while Pd is in the core.

Electrochemical characterizations revealed that the catalytic performance of the Pt3Ni-coated Pd nanocrystals outperformed those of two commercial catalysts: Pt/C (Pt particles supported on activated carbon) and Pd black (a fine powder elemental Pd). Figure 2a compares the linear-sweep voltammograms of the three samples. The synthesized catalyst showed appreciably enhanced oxidation current at potentials beyond 0.4 V vs. RHE. The histograms in Figure 2b clearly display that the mass activity and the specific activity of the synthesized nanocrystals are the highest. The authors ascribed the superior performance to the high surface area (42.50 m2 g-1), the ultrathin Pt3Ni coating with its {111} crystal planes exposed, and the core-shell configuration.

Figure 2. (a) Linear-sweep voltammograms of the synthesized catalyst (Pd@Pt3Ni/C), Pt/C and Pd black. (b) The comparison of mass activity (i.e. oxidation current normalized to the masses of the catalysts) and specific activity (i.e. oxidation current normalized to the areas of the catalysts) of Pd@Pt3Ni/C, Pt/C and Pd black.

This work signifies the feasibility of Pd-based nano-catalysts as alternatives to Pt towards catalyzing EOR. It is also expected to encourage the effort in developing a diverse array of inexpensive and high-performance catalysts for other reactions pertaining to fuel cells, including but not limited to oxidation of fuels other than ethanol and oxygen reduction reactions.

To find out more please read:

One-Pot Synthesis of Pd@Pt3Ni Core-Shell Nanobranches with Ultrathin Pt3Ni{111} Skins for Efficient Ethanol Electrooxidation

Yuanyuan Wang, Wei Wang, Fei Xue, Yong Cheng, Kai Liu, Qiaobao Zhang, Maochang Liu and Shuifen Xie

Chem. Commun., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc02816h

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in the United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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The CO2-Capturing Mechanism of Quaternary Nitrogen-Containing Polymers Revealed Experimentally

A group of scientists from Washington University at St. Louis, USA have disclosed experimentally how CO2 is captured by polymers with quaternary nitrogen cations. Using solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the authors established that CO2 molecules were absorbed as bicarbonate anions (HCO3).

The increasing amount of CO2 has posed a number of concerning environmental issues such as climate change, rising sea level and ocean acidification. Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere is an effective way to lower the CO2 concentration. Recently, a family of polymer absorbents containing quaternary nitrogen functional groups, termed humidity-swing polymers, have been identified as promising absorbents to absorb CO2 directly from air. However, the limited understanding of the chemical mechanism related to their CO2-capturing capability hindered the development of these promising absorbents.

In ChemComm, Yang et al. used solid-state 13C NMR to explore how CO2 molecules were captured and released. Figure 1a presents the NMR spectra of a humidity-swing polymer absorbent itself (top), upon contacting with CO2 (middle) and after releasing CO2 (bottom). The most striking feature is the appearance of an additional sharp peak at a chemical shift of 161 ppm in the middle spectrum, which did not show up in the other two spectra. The authors further studied the shape evolution of the additional peak, with respect to temperature, and concluded that the peak was due to HCO3 anions. Additionally, the authors also identified the presence of hydroxide anions in the absorbent after CO2 was released.

Figure 1. (a) The solid-state 13C NMR spectra of the humidity-swing polymeric absorbent (structure shown in the inset of the middle spectrum) itself (top), upon contacting with CO2 (middle) and after releasing CO2 (bottom). (b) The proposed pathways of how CO2 molecules interact with the quaternary-N anions of the absorbent.

The researchers then proposed the CO2 adsorption-desorption mechanism (illustrated in Figure 1b) based on the experimental results. The storage and release of CO2 depend on the humidity level of the surroundings: When the humidity is low, the polymer absorbs CO2 and forms HCO3 anions; the negative charge of HCO3 is counter-balanced by the neighboring quaternary N cations. When the humidity is increased, HCO3 anions combine with water and decompose to CO2 and hydroxide anions. This proposed pathway does not involve CO32- anions, which differs from the previously-reported mechanisms derived from theoretical simulations.

The published results represent the first set of experimental evidence elucidating how CO2 molecules interact with humidity-swing polymeric absorbents. The acquired mechanistic insight could provide valuable guidelines for the design of CO2 absorbents with ultrahigh absorption capacity.

 

To find out more please read:

Humidity-Swing Mechanism for CO2 Capture from Ambient Air
Hao Yang, Manmilan Singh and Jacob Schaefer
Chem. Commun., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc02109k

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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In-Situ Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Revealed the Charge Storage Behavior of Activated Carbon

Recently in Chem. Commun., Wang et al. from University of Manchester and Liverpool John Moores University, U.K. demonstrated that in-situ electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy was a powerful tool to study the charge storage mechanism of activated carbon.

Activated carbon is a type of microporous carbon used for electrodes of supercapacitors (a family of charge-storage devices similar to batteries). Conventional electrochemical testing techniques (e.g. cyclic voltammetry) are able to evaluate the overall performance of electrode materials but are unable to reveal the charge storage mechanism at the atomic level. Understanding the charge storage mechanism is crucial to guide the design and synthesis of electrode materials with improved performance. During the past decade, the development of numerous in-situ probing techniques has allowed materials researchers to explore the microscopic charge-discharge behaviour of supercapacitor electrodes.

In the published paper, in-situ EPR spectroscopy was used to study the electrochemical properties of activated carbon under different external potentials. EPR is very sensitive to electron spins originating from unpaired electrons that are generated upon charging or discharging electrode materials. This characteristic makes EPR a suitable technique for in-situ studies. To carry out the experiments, the authors designed and constructed a capillary three-electrode testing cell (Figure 1a). This cell was placed in an EPR spectrometer and its activated carbon electrode was connected to an external power source (to apply external potentials to the activated carbon electrode). The authors collected the spectra of the activated carbon electrode at selected applied potentials, an example of which is shown in Figure 1b.

Analysis of the obtained spectra offered important information about how the surface of activated carbon changed at different potentials. Specifically, the authors deconvoluted the signal into two components: the narrow signal and the broad signal corresponding to the blue and red curves in Figure 1b, respectively. The peak intensity of the narrow signal increased drastically when charging the electrode, but remained almost unchanged when altering the testing temperature. This observation suggests that the origin of the narrow peaks was the surface-localized electrons. These localized electrons were likely from the oxidized products (i.e. radicals) of carboxylate and alkoxide groups on the surface of the activated carbon, evolved during the charging process. The broad signal was ascribed to electrons located on aromatic units (e.g. graphene domains) and its intensity was found to be proportional to the number of ions electrically adsorbed on the activated carbon surface.

Figure 1. (a) The structure of the self-built capillary three-electrode cell: CE – counter electrode (Pt wire); RE – reference electrode (Ag/AgCl); WE – working electrode (activated carbon). (b) A typical EPR signal (black) that can be deconvoluted into narrow peaks (blue) and broad peaks (red).

This work highlights EPR spectroscopy as a novel tool for in-situ investigation of the charge-storage mechanism of carbon-based supercapacitor electrodes, and could be potentially extended to study other types of materials. The availability of diverse in-situ techniques is expected to provide more in-depth fundamental understanding that will guide researchers to rationally develop electrodes with optimized performance.

 

To find out more please read:

In-Situ Electrochemical Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as A Tool to Probe Electric Double Layer Capacitance

Bin Wang, Alistair J. Fielding and Robert A. W. Dryfe

Chem. Commun. 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc00450a

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is an online blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Buckyball’s Hydrogen Spillover Effect at Ambient Temperature Observed Experimentally for the First Time

A group of scientists from Tohoku University, Japan experimentally demonstrated the hydrogen spillover effect of buckyball (a.k.a. fullerene or C60). They achieved this breakthrough using mass spectroscopy, and their findings were published recently in Chem. Commun.

Certain transition metal nanoparticles (e.g. Ru, Pt and Ni) can capture hydrogen molecules. The capture process generally involves three sequential steps. Firstly, hydrogen molecules split into hydrogen atoms on the metal surface. Secondly, the yielded hydrogen atoms migrate on the surface towards substrates under the metal nanoparticles and, finally, these atoms fix onto the substrates. The second step is termed the “spillover effect” (Figure 1a). Previous studies predicted that curved graphene sheets could enhance the hydrogen spillover effect at ambient temperatures, but solid experimental evidence has remained inadequate.

To gather evidence for this prediction, Nishihara et al. studied the material buckyball, a spherical carbon nanosphere that represents an extremely curved graphene sheet. The researchers selected ketjenblack (KB), a type of porous carbon sheet, as the substrate, and deposited Pt nanoparticles (1-3 nm in diameter) and buckyball molecules onto it (Figure 1b). They found that the Pt and buckyball-decorated KB stored a higher amount of hydrogen compared to the Pt-loaded KB. This observation indirectly confirmed the previous prediction, as hydrogen storage capacity may be improved by enhancing the spillover effect.

Figure 1. (a) A schematic illustration showing how a hydrogen molecule is split on Pt surface [process (1)] followed by the spillover effect [processes (2) and (2′)]. (b) A schematic illustration of the structure of Pt and buckyball-decorated KB. The inset panel displays two forms of hydrogen bound to the composite: the physically adsorbed di-hydrogen molecules, and the spillover hydrogen atoms anchored on the KB substrate and buckyballs.

 

The authors then sought time-of-flight mass spectroscopy to obtain more evidence. This spectroscopic technique is capable of identifying molecules with different mass to charge ratios (m/z). As shown in Figure 2, after treating the buckyball and Pt-loaded KB with deuterium molecules (D2), the spectrum (red) exhibited two additional peaks with m/z of ~723.5 and ~724.5 (highlighted by arrows in the figure) compared to those of the buckyball reference (black) and the buckyball and Pt-loaded KB prior to D2 dosage (blue). The authors ascribed these two new peaks to single D atom-adsorbed buckyballs with different amounts of carbon isotopes (12C and 13C). The presence of the two new peaks clearly showed that buckyballs could host hydrogen atoms to enhance the spillover effect. In addition, upon exposing the D-containing buckballs to air, both of the newly-merged peaks disappeared, suggesting that D atom adsorption was reversible.

Figure 2. The time-of-flight mass spectroscopy spectra of buckyball (black), Pt and buckyball-decorated KB before (blue) and after (red) exposure to D2, and after exposure to air (green). Pictures on the right show the molecular structure of a buckyball molecule and two deuterium-incorporated buckyball molecules (with different number of 13C isotope). Deuterium is used to avoid the interference from the 13C isotope.

This work could serve as a reference for future studies of the spillover effect induced by buckyballs interacting with other metal nanoparticles. The increasing availability of in-depth fundamental insight could refine our understanding of ambient-temperature hydrogen storage.

To find out more please read:

Enhanced Hydrogen Spillover to Fullerene at Ambient Temperature

Hirotomo Nishihara, Tomoya Simura and Takashi Kyotani

Chem. Commun. 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc00265g

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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