Due to the high cost and limited availability of platinum, the development of non-platinum-group metals (non-PGM) catalysts is of paramount importance. A promising alternative to Pt are Fe-N-C-based materials. Here we present the synthesis, characterization and electrochemistry of a template-free nitrogen-doped carbon foam, impregnated with iron. This low-cost and gram-scale method results in materials with micron-scale pore size and large surface area (1600 m2g-1). When applied as an oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) electrocatalyst in alkaline solution, the Fe-N-C foams display extremely high initial activity, slightly out-performing commercially available non-PGM catalysts (NCP-2000, Pajarito Powder). The load-cycle durability in alkaline solution is investigated, and the performance steadily degrades over 60,000 potential cycles, whilst the commercial catalyst is remarkably stable. The post-operation catalyst microstructure is elucidated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM), to provide insight into the degradation processes. The resulting images suggest that potential cycling leads to leaching of atomically dispersed Fe-N2/4 sites in all the catalysts, whereas encapsulated iron nanoparticles are protected.
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