Scalable and controllable synthesis of atomic metal electrocatalysts assisted by an egg-box in alginate
Herein, a general strategy is developed to synthesize atomic metal catalysts using sustainable and earth-abundant sodium alginate (Na-Alg), a common seaweed extract, as a precursor. The “egg-box” structure in Na-Alg after ion-exchange with metal cations (Zn2+, Co2+, Ni2+, Cu2+, etc.) is the key to achieve a scalable and controllable synthesis of highly dispersed atomic metals. For instance, atomic Co, Ni and Cu have been successfully synthesized using this method. As a representative, the as-synthesized atomically dispersed Co on reduced graphene oxide (A-Co/r-GO) can reach a maximum metal loading of 3.6 wt%, showing outstanding catalytic activity and stability for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) with a half-wave potential (E1/2) of 0.842 V vs. RHE that is more positive than that of 20 wt% Pt/C (0.827 V vs. RHE) in alkaline solutions. The A-Co/r-GO catalyzed zinc-air batteries (ZABs) outperform Pt/C-based ZABs in the aspects of discharge voltage and specific zinc capacity, and can work robustly for more than 250 h with negligible voltage loss with refueling the Zn anode and KOH electrolyte periodically. This work opens up a new strategy for a general, practical and scalable synthesis of atomic metal catalysts at very low cost.