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Engineering Non-sintered, Metal-Terminated Tungsten Carbide Nanoparticles for Catalysis


  • This work was sponsored by the Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Biosciences Division, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy, grant no. DE-FG02-12ER16352. S.T.H. thanks the National Science Foundation for financial support through the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. 1122374.


Transition-metal carbides (TMCs) exhibit catalytic activities similar to platinum group metals (PGMs), yet TMCs are orders of magnitude more abundant and less expensive. However, current TMC synthesis methods lead to sintering, support degradation, and surface impurity deposition, ultimately precluding their wide-scale use as catalysts. A method is presented for the production of metal-terminated TMC nanoparticles in the 1–4 nm range with tunable size, composition, and crystal phase. Carbon-supported tungsten carbide (WC) and molybdenum tungsten carbide (MoxW1−xC) nanoparticles are highly active and stable electrocatalysts. Specifically, activities and capacitances about 100-fold higher than commercial WC and within an order of magnitude of platinum-based catalysts are achieved for the hydrogen evolution and methanol electrooxidation reactions. This method opens an attractive avenue to replace PGMs in high energy density applications such as fuel cells and electrolyzers.

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