Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) scientists have introduced a new way to increase energy efficiency of metal-air batteries by substituting platinum with perovskite enhanced by simply adding a kind of conducting polymer, polypyrrole.

The oxygen reduction reaction at the anode of the cell is divided into four stages. The first step, which is the slowest, involves the addition of polypyrol to improve the catalytic reaction. Image Credit: Ulsan National Institute. Click image for the largest view.

The breakthrough research, led by Professor Hyun-Kon Song and Professor Guntae Kim of the institute’s department of Energy and Chemical Engineering has been published in Energy & Environmental Science.

In the cathode of metal-air batteries or fuel cells, oxygen is reduced to metal oxide or water. At that time, catalysts are required to accelerate the reaction. So far the well known precious metal catalyst, platinum, remains the economics issue to commercialize metal-air batteries or fuel cells due to its high price.

For the research the catalytic activity of perovskite which can be substituted for platinum was dramatically enhanced by simply adding a kind of conducting polymer, polypyrrole. When the perovskite or polypyrrole are used alone, their activities can’t attain the activity of platinum. However, as a result of physically mixing perovskite with polypyrrole, the activity was dramatically enhanced and the compound attained the result of platinum. This is first synergistic effect in oxygen electrocatalysis even though there was a chemical interaction between the perovskite and polypyrrole.

Professor Song said, “The reaction in which oxygen receives electrons is oxygen reduction. The property of polypyrrole which is sensitive to oxygen contributes to accelerating this reaction.”

Dong-Gyu Lee, the first author of the research said, “Because the oxide-polypyrrole complex is made by simple operation, the catalyst will be proper to apply next-generation energy devices.”

There have been many ideas with some success in replacing platinum for catalytic action over the past decade but the market level breakthrough hasn’t been found. Yet the intensity of interest is quite high because the potential is immense and the platinum price blockade has been insurmountable. So far.

One can be sure that this team’s paper will get read and replicated. Perovskite is cheap, polypyrrole low cost. Maybe this is the breakout catalyst. The research is sure to do one thing, compounding of the potential ideas already found is going to be checked over thoroughly, setting off even more ideas to be checked on, too.


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