First principles investigation of the activity of thin film Pt, Pd and Au surface alloys for oxygen reduction

Vladimir Tripkovic, Heine Anton Hansen, Jan Rossmeisl, Tejs Vegge

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Further advances in fuel cell technologies are hampered by kinetic limitations associated with the sluggish cathodic oxygen reduction reaction. We have investigated a range of different formulations of binary and ternary Pt, Pd and Au thin films as electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction. The most active binary thin films are near-surface alloys of Pt with subsurface Pd and certain PdAu and PtAu thin films with surface and/or subsurface Au. The most active ternary thin films are with pure metal Pt or Pd skins with some degree of Au in the surface and/or subsurface layer and the near-surface alloys of Au with mixed Pt/Pd skins. The activity of the binary and ternary catalysts is explained through weakening of the OH binding energy caused by solute elements. However, given the low alloy formation energies it may be difficult to tune and retain the composition under operating conditions. This is particularly challenging for alloys containing Au due to a high propensity of Au to segregate to the surface. We also show that once Au is on the surface it will diffuse to defect sites, explaining why small amounts of Au retard dissolution of Pt nanoparticles. For the PtPd thin films there is no pronounced driving force for surface segregation, diffusion to defects or surface self-assembling. On the basis of stability and activity analysis we conclude that the near surface alloy of Pd in Pt and some PdAu binary and PtPdAu ternary thin films with a controlled amount of Au are the best catalysts for oxygen reduction.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics
Pages (from-to)11647-11657
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

This article is published Open Access as part of the RSC's Gold for Gold initiative, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence.


  • Density Functional Theory
  • Oxygen reduction reaction
  • Thin films
  • Platinum
  • Palladium
  • Gold
  • Alloys
  • Fuel cell cathode


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