Influence of the ionomer/carbon ratio for low-Pt loading catalyst layer prepared by reactive spray deposition technology

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Proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) catalyst layers (CLs) were fabricated by direct deposition of the catalyst onto Nafion® membranes using reactive spray deposition technique (RSDT) to reduce platinum (Pt) loading and reduce the number of catalyst synthesis and processing steps. Nitrogen adsorption, mercury porosimetry, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) were used to investigate the effects of ionomer/carbon ratio (I/C) on the surface area, pore structure and morphology of the CLs; cyclic voltammetry and polarization curves were used to determine the electrochemically active area (ECSA) and PEMFC performance. The BET surface area and pore volume of the CLs decreased continuously with increasing I/C ratio regardless of the catalyst loading. Bimodal distribution of pores with diameters ranging from 1.7 to 10 nm and from 30 to 100 nm were observed from the pore-size distribution of the CLs. The catalyst-coated membrane (CCM) with an I/C ratio of 0.3 showed the highest ECSA of 62 m2 gPt−1 and the best performance at 0.6 V for oxygen (1400 mA cm−2) and air (650 mA cm−2) among all RSDT samples. The optimum I/C ratio is lower compared to ink-based methods, and Pt nanoparticles showed improved distribution on the carbon surface. The RSDT process shows promise in achieving better ionomer coverage and penetration in the CL microstructure, enhancing the performance of low Pt-loading PEMFCs.