Spontaneous incorporation of gold in palladium-based ternary nanoparticles makes durable electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction
Replacing platinum by a less precious metal such as palladium, is highly desirable for lowering the cost of fuel-cell electrocatalysts. However, the instability of palladium in the harsh environment of fuel-cell cathodes renders its commercial future bleak. Here we show that by incorporating trace amounts of gold in palladium-based ternary (Pd6CoCu) nanocatalysts, the durability of the catalysts improves markedly. Using aberration-corrected analytical transmission electron microscopy in conjunction with synchrotron X-ray absorption spectroscopy, we show that gold not only galvanically replaces cobalt and copper on the surface, but also penetrates through the Pd–Co–Cu lattice and distributes uniformly within the particles. The uniform incorporation of Au provides a stability boost to the entire host particle, from the surface to the interior. The spontaneous replacement method we have developed is scalable and commercially viable. This work may provide new insight for the large-scale production of non-platinum electrocatalysts for fuel-cell applications.