The effects of catalyst layer deposition methodology on electrode performance

Huei Ru Q. Jhong, Fikile R. Brushett, Paul J.A. Kenis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The catalyst layer of the cathode is arguably the most critical component of low-temperature fuel cells and carbon dioxide (CO2) electrolysis cells because their performance is typically limited by slow oxygen (O 2) and CO2 reduction kinetics. While significant efforts have focused on developing cathode catalysts with improved activity and stability, fewer efforts have focused on engineering the catalyst layer structure to maximize catalyst utilization and overall electrode and system performance. Here, we study the performance of cathodes for O2 reduction and CO2 reduction as a function of three common catalyst layer preparation methods: hand-painting, air-brushing, and screen-printing. We employed ex-situ X-ray micro-computed tomography (MicroCT) to visualize the catalyst layer structure and established data processing procedures to quantify catalyst uniformity. By coupling structural analysis with in-situ electrochemical characterization, we directly correlate variation in catalyst layer morphology to electrode performance. MicroCT and SEM analyses indicate that, as expected, more uniform catalyst distribution and less particle agglomeration, lead to better performance. Most importantly, the analyses reported here allow for the observed differences over a large geometric volume as a function of preparation methods to be quantified and explained for the first time. Depositing catalyst layers via a fully-automated air-brushing method led to a 56% improvement in fuel cell performance and a significant reduction in electrode-to-electrode variability. Furthermore, air-brushing catalyst layers for CO2 reduction led to a 3-fold increase in partial CO current density and enhanced product selectivity (94% CO) at similar cathode potential but a 10-fold decrease in catalyst loading as compared to previous reports. The effects of catalyst layer deposition methods on electrode performance for fuel cells and CO2 electrolysis cells are investigated. Micro-computed X-ray tomography is employed to visualize and quantify the structure of the catalyst layer in 3D and over a large geometric area. By coupling structural analysis with in situ electrochemical characterization, changes in electrode performance can be directly correlated to differences in catalyst layer structure, which in turn can guide electrode optimization, including improved catalyst utilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-599
Number of pages11
JournalAdvanced Energy Materials
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013


  • catalyst deposition
  • CO reduction
  • energy conversion and storage
  • microfluidic fuel cell
  • X-ray computed tomography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Materials Science(all)


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