Journal of Advanced Ceramics


precious-metal-free electrocatalyst, biomass resource, space confinement effect, 2e+2e pathway, oxygen reduction reaction (ORR)


A highly porous nitrogen-doped carbon sphere (NPC) electrocatalyst was prepared through the carbonization of biomass carbon spheres mixed with urea and zinc chloride in N2 atmosphere. The sample carbonized at 1000 ℃ demonstrates a superior oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) performance over the Pt/C electrocatalyst, while its contents of pyridinic nitrogen and graphitic nitrogen are the lowest among samples synthesized at the same or lower carbonization temperatures. This unusual result is explained by a space confinement effect from the microporous and mesoporous structures in the microflakes, which induces the further reduction of peroxide ions or other oxygen species produced in the first step reduction to water to have the preferred overall four electron reduction ORR process. This work demonstrates that in addition to the amount or species of its active sites, the space confinement can be a new approach to enhance the ORR performance of precious-metal-free, nitrogen-doped carbon electrocatalysts.