Platinum-free oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts could help reduce the cost of future generations of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEFCs). One class of non-precious catalyst for PEFCs are nanostructured Fe/C/N-based materials. In these, the nature of the active site is still hotly contested. Resolving this issue could lead to the development of better catalysts. One approach to achieve this is to study nitrogen-doped carbons, without any Fe content. Such materials have been studied, but largely in alkaline media where high activity is routinely obtained. Studies of metal-free catalysts in acid are rare, and Fe-contamination is often an issue. To truly shed light on the ORR mechanism of Fe/C/N-based catalysts, measurements on metal-free catalysts in acid media are required to simulate proton-based PEFC systems. Here we present synthesis of a metal-free defective nitrogen-doped graphene powder with remarkable surface area. We apply this as an ORR catalyst in acid medium and comment on the reaction mechanism.
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