Noble metal supported hexagonal boron nitride for the oxygen reduction reaction: a DFT study†
Discovering active, stable and cost-effective catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) is of utmost interest for commercialization of fuel cells. Scarce and expensive noble metals such as Pt and Pd are the state-of-the-art active ORR catalysts but suffer from low stability against CO poisoning. Hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) is a particularly attractive material due to its low cost and stability; however, it suffers from intrinsic low activity toward the ORR in the pristine form as a result of its inherently low conductivity with a large band gap of ∼5.5 electron volts. During the past few years, several strategies such as using metal supports, metal doping and atomic vacancies have been reported to significantly increase the conductivity, thereby promoting the ORR activity. Herein we use density functional theory calculations to systematically study these strategies for activating inert h-BN and further examine the stability against CO poisoning. We show that noble metals, such as Ag, Pd, and Pt, require boron (B) or nitrogen (N) vacancies to reasonably activate h-BN toward the ORR. For example, Pd supported h-BN with B-vacancies exhibits significantly high ORR activity. All three examined metal supported h-BNs are predicted to be stable against CO poisoning. These results demonstrate that supporting h-BN on noble metals is a promising strategy to increase the stability against CO poisoning while maintaining high ORR activity.