Revealing the atomic ordering of binary intermetallics using in situ heating techniques at multilength scales

Yin Xiong, Yao Yang, Howie Joress, Elliot Padgett, Unmukt Gupta, Venkata Yarlagadda, David N. Agyeman-Budu, Xin Huang, Thomas E. Moylan, Rui Zeng, Anusorn Kongkanand, Fernando A. Escobedo, Joel D. Brock, Francis J. DiSalvo, David A. Muller, and Héctor D. Abruña, 2019


Ordered intermetallic nanoparticles are promising electrocatalysts with enhanced activity and durability for the oxygen-reduction reaction (ORR) in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). The ordered phase is generally identified based on the existence of superlattice ordering peaks in powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD). However, after employing a widely used postsynthesis annealing treatment, we have found that claims of “ordered” catalysts were possibly/likely mixed phases of ordered intermetallics and disordered solid solutions. Here, we employed in situ heating, synchrotron-based, X-ray diffraction to quantitatively investigate the impact of a variety of annealing conditions on the degree of ordering of large ensembles of Pt3Co nanoparticles. Monte Carlo simulations suggest that Pt3Co nanoparticles have a lower order–disorder phase transition (ODPT) temperature relative to the bulk counterpart. Furthermore, we employed microscopic-level in situ heating electron microscopy to directly visualize the morphological changes and the formation of both fully and partially ordered nanoparticles at the atomic scale. In general, a higher degree of ordering leads to more active and durable electrocatalysts. The annealed Pt3Co/C with an optimal degree of ordering exhibited significantly enhanced durability, relative to the disordered counterpart, in practical membrane electrode assembly (MEA) measurements. The results highlight the importance of understanding the annealing process to maximize the degree of ordering in intermetallics to optimize electrocatalytic activity.

Impact Statement

The authors present a comprehensive, quantitative study of the dynamic order–disorder phase transition of Pt3Co nanoparticles, binary intermetallic oxygen-reduction reaction fuel cell electrocatalysts, during postsynthesis annealing. Their findings show that a higher degree of ordering leads to more active and durable electrocatalysts.