Commercially available activated carbon (AC) powders from different precursor materials (peat, coconut shell, coal, and hardwood) were treated with ammonia gas at 700 C to improve their performance as oxygen reduction catalysts in neutral pH solutions used in microbial fuel cells (MFCs). The ammonia treated ACs exhibited better catalytic performance in rotating ring-disk electrode tests than their untreated precursors, with the bituminous based AC most improved, with an onset potential of Eonset = 0.12 V (untreated, Eonset = 0.08 V) and n = 3.9 electrons transferred in oxygen reduction (untreated, n = 3.6), and the hardwood based AC (treated, E onset = 0.03 V, n = 3.3; untreated, Eonset = -0.04 V, n = 3.0). Ammonia treatment decreased oxygen content by 29-58%, increased nitrogen content to 1.8 atomic %, and increased the basicity of the bituminous, peat, and hardwood ACs. The treated coal based AC cathodes had higher maximum power densities in MFCs (2450 ± 40 mW m-2) than the other AC cathodes or a Pt/C cathode (2100 ± 1 mW m-2). These results show that reduced oxygen abundance and increased nitrogen functionalities on the AC surface can increase catalytic performance for oxygen reduction in neutral media.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Energy Engineering and Power Technology
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Electrical and Electronic Engineering