On the electro-oxidation of small organic molecules: towards a fuel cell catalyst testing platform

22 November 2021, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


The electrocatalytic oxidation of small organic compounds such as methanol or formic acid has been the subject of numerous investigations in the last decades. The motivation for these studies is often their use as fuel in so-called direct methanol or direct formic acid fuel cells, promising alternatives to hydrogen-fueled proton exchange membrane fuel cells. The fundamental research spans from screening studies to identify the best performing catalyst materials to detailed mechanistic investigations of the reaction pathway. These investigations are commonly performed in standard three electrode electrochemical cells with a liquid supporting electrolyte to which the methanol or formic acid is added. In fuel cell devices, however, no liquid electrolyte will be present, instead membrane electrolytes are used. The question therefore arises, to which extend results from conventional electrochemical cells can be extrapolated to conditions found in fuel cells. We previously developed a gas diffusion electrode setup to mimic “real-life” reaction conditions and study electrocatalysts for oxygen gas reduction or water splitting. It is here demonstrated that the setup is also suitable to investigate the properties of catalysts for the electro-oxidation of small organic molecules. Using the gas diffusion electrode setup, it is seen that employing a catalyst - membrane electrolyte interface as compared to conventional electrochemical cells can lead to significantly different catalyst performances. Therefore, it is recommended to implement gas diffusion electrode setups for the investigation of the electro-oxidation of small organic molecules.


Methanol oxidation
formic acid oxidation
direct methanol fuel cell
direct formic acid fuel cell
gas diffusion electrode setup


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