Title of Invention


Abstract The invention is relative to gas diffusion electrodes, for use in fuel cells and other electrochemical applications, obtained by direct metallisation of a gas diffusion medium with low platinum loading, and to a membrane-electrode assembly incorporating the same.
Full Text

The invention is relative to gas diffusion electrodes for use in fuel cells and
other electrochemical applications, and to the relevant method of production.
Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) are considered to be one of the
most promising sources of clean electrical energy for the near future. PEMFC
are electrochemical generators which produce direct electrical current from a
gaseous fuel (typically hydrogen, pure or in admixture) and a gaseous oxidant,
normally consisting of oxygen or air. The core component of the cell is the
membrane-electrode assembly, consisting of an ion-exchange membrane,
which is the solid electrolyte supporting the whole process and the physical
separator of the anode and cathode cell compartments, bonded or otherwise
coupled to gas diffusion electrodes. The gas diffusion electrodes, one cathode
and one anode contacting either side of the ion-exchange membrane, usually
comprise a gas diffusion medium and a catalysed layer. Several kinds of
technical solutions are known from the prior art for these components: the
catalysed layers are in some cases applied to the gas diffusion media prior to
the coupling with the membrane, and/or they are directly coated on the
membrane surface prior to the application of uncatalysed gas diffusion media
thereon. The gas diffusion medium usually comprises an electrically conductive
web and one or more gas diffusion layers; the conductive web can be metallic
or carbon-based, and may consist of a metal mesh, foam or cloth, of a woven or
non-woven carbon cloth, of a carbon paper or of any other preferably porous or
perforated medium. Gas diffusion layers are provided to supply suitable paths
for the diffusion of gaseous reactants inside the electrode structure toward the
catalytic sites whereupon the electrochemical reactions of fuel oxidation (anode
side) and oxidant reduction (cathode side) occur: they are usually based on
mixtures of electrically conductive inert fillers (for instance carbon particles) and
suitable, preferably hydrophobic binders (for instance PTFE or other fluorinated

binders). Gas diffusion layers should be carefully designed to provide a
permeable and smooth structure, to ensure a correct apportionment of the
gaseous reactants without incurring heavy mass transport penalties, and to
provide a good contact with the membrane. Improved gas diffusion structures
for fuel cells are for instance disclosed in US 6,103,077. A catalysed layer can
then be applied to the gas diffusion layers, for instance as described in US
6,017,650; catalysed layers of the prior art comprise noble metal catalysts such
as platinum, optionally supported on carbon or graphite particles, a suitable
binder, which can be the same hydrophobic binder already present in the gas
diffusion layers, and an ionomeric component, usually an ionomeric
perfluorocarbon species. The ionomeric component can be added to the
catalyst-binder mixture and/or it can be applied subsequently as an external
layer wetting the pre-applied catalyst and binder particles. Gas diffusion
electrodes of this kind, coupled to proton-exchange membranes known in the
art, for instance based on fluorocarbon acids such as Nafion® (a trade-mark of
U.S. company DuPont), give rise to membrane-electrode assemblies
characterised by excellent performances; nevertheless, the noble metal
component is exploited to such a low extent in structures of this kind, that very
high specific loadings are required (usually in the range of 0.3 to 1 mg/cmz of
platinum both for the anode and for the cathode side in commercially available
products). The high amount of noble metal required for obtaining suitable
performances in fuel cells is perhaps the single most important factor preventing
PEMFC (and other types of fuel cells such as DMFC, direct methanol fuel cells)
from having a commercial success. Direct metallisation of ion-exchange
membranes with a catalyst layer has been proposed as a means to achieve a
better catalyst-membrane interface, allowing a better catalyst exploitation and
therefore the use of lower noble metal loadings. However, no means for direct
metallisation of membranes has proven effective and practical up to now. High
temperatures required by sputtering or ultra high vacuum deposition (UHV) are
destined to impart consistent damages to the delicate ion-exchange
membranes, and even the common physical and chemical vapour deposition
techniques (PVD or CVD) have proven too difficult to control and cumbersome

to scale up. A substantial improvement in the metallisation of membranes is
disclosed in US 6,077,621, wherein the use of dual IBAD is proposed for this
purpose. Dual IBAD, which is an evolution of the Ion Beam Assisted Deposition
(IBAD) technique, has the advantage of being a low temperature process, very
easy to scale up. The membrane is initially cleaned and textured by a first low-
energy ion beam, for instance an Ar+ beam, having an energy not higher than
500 eV; a second beam is then focused on the membrane, containing higher
energy ions (such as O2+ or N2+) together with the ions of the metals to be
deposited, previously evaporated by means of an electron beam. Dual IBAD is
much advantageous also over conventional IBAD (in which a single beam is
used), in that it allows the formation of a better controlled film with the required
density and porosity while imparting a minimum stress to the membrane
structure. Since the handling of a large sized ion-exchange membrane in a
continuous metallisation process is not very easy, a further improvement of this
technique has been disclosed in US 6,673,127: in this case, a very thin ion-
exchange membrane layer is formed on a gas diffusion structure, and then
subjected to dual IBAD. Although this technique allows to obtain high power
densities in fuel cells with reduced platinum loadings, it still presents some
disadvantages that the present invention wishes to address. Firstly, although
the performances of these electrodes can be high, they can be somehow
unpredictable since the reliability of this technique is affected by the
characteristics of the ionomer film, which can vary according to the preparation
conditions. The state-of-the-art liquid ionomer film is of fluorocarbonic nature,
since this is the only known ionomeric material that would allow high power
density operation, and it has to be recast from an alcoholic or hydroalcoholic
suspension of a fluorocarbon acid such as the product commercialised as
"Liquid Nation" by DuPont. The nature of these suspensions is not always
consistent, since average molecular weight, morphological parameters of the
suspended particles, rheological parameters and other factors may vary in a
remarkable fashion from one batch to the other. Moreover, also in the best
cases, the utilisation factor of the catalyst with liquid ionomer-embedded
particles does never approach unity. Liquid ionomers for gas diffusion

electrodes were first described in US 4,876,115 as a means for extending the
proton conduction paths within the interstitial spaces of a three-dimensional
catalytic layer thereby improving the utilisation factor of the catalyst (which is a
measure of the availability and accessibility of the catalyst itself as a site for the
desired reaction). This approach is effective up to a certain extent, only
mimicking the ideal situation whereby all the catalyst is present in a very thin
and smooth, quasi-two-dimensional layer, in direct contact with the membrane
surface. Besides solving the issue of lowering the platinum loading (or more
generally the noble metal loading) in fuel cell electrodes, another problem which
should be addressed is the low stability of fluorocarbon-based ionomeric
components in membrane-electrode assemblies at certain process conditions.
In some applications (such as automotive ones), fuel cells are operated in a
discontinuous fashion depending on the instant power demand; since PEMFC
are known for their very quick start-up and their remarkable ability of following
the requirements of steeply variable power demand, they are the most
promising candidate for operating in this field. However, in conditions of zero or
near-zero power demand, i.e. when little or no current is generated (open circuit
voltage conditions), a consistent generation of peroxides on the anode side is
likely to take place. Perfluorocarbon materials are often unstable in these
conditions, especially over long times. Also for this reasons, alternative
membranes (for instance based on polybenzimidazole, polyetherketones or
polysulphones) have been developed for fuel cell applications. In any case,
none of this materials has proven suitable for being employed as a proton
conducting material for the electrode interface according to the teaching of US
4,876,115, and perfluorocarbon materials such as the aforementioned "Liquid
Nation" are always used. The elimination of this component would therefore be
beneficial for many reasons, not only of cost and reliability, but also of overall
chemical stability at certain process conditions.
For all the above reasons, direct metallisation of gas diffusion media was
attempted with several different techniques in the past, with no major success.
Although, for instance, US 6,159,533 claims that excellent performances are
obtainable with a PVD deposition of platinum on a gas diffusion medium, the

examples show that the actual recorded performances don't go beyond a
modest 732 mA/cm2 at 0.358 V in a fuel cell provided with a very thin
membrane (20 microns), fed with a very high gas flow-rate (3.5 stoichiometric
ratio on air, 2 stoichiometric ratio on pure hydrogen) at a relatively high pressure
(about 2 bar).
It is an object of the present invention to provide a gas diffusion electrode
overcoming the limitations of the prior art.
Under another aspect, it is an object of the present invention to provide a gas
diffusion electrode obtained by direct metallisation of a gas diffusion medium
with low platinum loading and of high performances, preferably free of
ionomeric fluorocarbon components, and a membrane-electrode assembly
incorporating the same.
Under yet another aspect, it is an object of the present invention to provide a
method for forming a noble metal coating on a gas diffusion medium by direct
Under a first aspect, the gas diffusion electrode of the invention consists of a
gas diffusion medium free of ionomeric components provided with a noble metal
coating by means of a dual IBAD deposition. The inventors have surprisingly
found that, contrarily to other direct metallisation techniques such as sputtering
or PVD, dual IBAD is capable of forming thin and smooth noble metal coatings,
in particular platinum coatings, with no damage to the underlying substrate and
with excellent electrochemical characteristics. Even more surprisingly, the
catalyst utilisation factor (which is a measure of the catalytic effectiveness of the
deposited noble metal coating) is not only much higher than in the electrodes of
the prior art, but it is achieved without resorting to proton conducting materials
in accordance with the teaching of US 4,876,115. More surprisingly, the
inventor have found that the optional addition of suspensions of proton
conducting materials in accordance with the teaching of US 4,876,115 is in
most of the cases detrimental for the performances: a characterisation by

voltammetry of the electrode of the invention coated with platinum in
accordance with the invention showed that the addition of a 0.5 mg/cm2 layer of
Liquid Nation decreases the Pt surface availability to a remarkable extent. The
smoothness and density of the dual IBAD-applied noble metal coating is of
great importance for obtaining a highly performant electrode: especially in the
case of platinum, the best results are obtained employing a first low-energy
beam of 100-500 eV, to clean and texture the surface of the gas diffusion
medium, and a second high-energy beam, preferably of 500-2000 eV, of
vaporised metal ions, in order to obtain a coating with a thickness preferably
comprised between 5 and 500 nm and a loading preferably comprised between
0.01 and 0.1 mg/cm2. In the present description, platinum is cited as an
exemplary catalyst material for the gas diffusion electrode of the invention, but
all other noble metals or combinations of different metals, noble and non noble,
can be used.
The nature of the gas diffusion medium is of utmost importance to obtain the
required electrochemical performances with very low noble metal loadings; in a
preferred embodiment, the gas diffusion medium whereto the noble metal
coating of the invention is applied is obtained on a conductive web, for instance
a metal or carbon cloth or a carbon paper, previously coated with a gas
diffusion layer comprising an electroconductive filter optionally consisting of
carbon particles or fibres and a binder, preferably a hydrophobic, optionally
fluorinated binder. The best results can be obtained making use of very smooth
gas diffusion media, preferably of gas diffusion media with a smoothness higher
that 1000 Gurley seconds, and most preferably higher than 5000 Gurley
seconds. Such high levels of smoothness are for instance obtainable by
gravure-coating or other types of machine coating of inks of acetylene black
carbon particles and PTFE or other equivalent fluorinated binders, optionally
employing suitable smoothing additives as disclosed in a co-pending provisional
patent application by the same applicant.
The gas diffusion electrode of the invention is particularly suited to be
incorporated in a membrane-electrode assembly structure, preferably by
binding to an ion-exchange membrane, optionally by hot pressing as known in

the art. In a preferred embodiment, the ion-exchange membrane is of the non
fluorinated type, for instance based on polybenzimidazole, polyetherketones or
polysulphones, so that no fluorocarbon component is present in the obtained
membrane-electrode assembly.
The membrane-electrode assembly obtained in accordance with the invention
has superior performances when used in PEMFC even with very low platinum
loadings, but can also be useful for other types of fuel cells such as DMFC
(direct methanol fuel cells) or for other electrochemical applications such as
membrane electrolysis.
Figure 1 shows the voltammetric curves of the electrode of the invention before
and after applying a coat of Liquid Nation suspension.
A gas diffusion medium was selected consisting of a three-dimensional woven
carbon cloth coated with a mixture of Shawinigan Acetylene Black carbon
particles and PTFE, for a total thickness of 410 microns, a basis weight of 210
g/m2, a density of 0.54 g/cm3, an electrical resistivity of 525 mΩcm, an air
permeability of 0.84 Gurley and a porosity of 25 microns with a mean pore size
of 6 microns. The gas diffusion layer had improved tensile properties and
surface roughness perfectly suiting the subsequent superficial metal deposition;
in particular, a standard smoothness test gave a value of 5000 Gurley seconds.
The gas diffusion medium so obtained was subjected to dual IBAD deposition of
platinum metal: the sample was first subjected to a first low-energy beam of 200
to 500 eV, to clean and partially texture the surface, then to platinum ions in a
gaseous phase, extracted from a plasma and accelerated into a growing
platinum coating on the gas diffusion layer surface at energies of 1000-2000 eV.
Ion bombardment is the key factor controlling film properties in the IBAD
process, imparting a substantial energy to the coating and the coating/substrate
interface. This achieves the benefits of substrate heating (which generally
provides a denser, more uniform film) without significantly heating the
underlying gas-diffusion material which might degrade the bulk properties
thereof. The ions also interact with coating atoms, driving them into the

substrate and producing a graded material interface, which enhances adhesion.
A total deposition of 0.04 mg/cm2 was obtained, corresponding to an overall
thickness of 25 nm.
Two small pieces were cut away form the sample, one of which was coated with
0.5 mg/cmz of Liquid Nafion as known in the art. Cyclic voltammetry was carried
out on both the coated and the uncoated sample, as shown in figure 1, wherein
(1) indicates the curve relative to the latter and (2) the one relative to the former.
It is evident how, notwithstanding the teachings of the prior art, the available
surface area appears to be decreased by the Nafion coating.
The remaining uncoated electrode was used to prepare a membrane-electrode
assembly, upon bonding it via hot pressing procedure (for 10 minutes at 120°C
and 25 bar a) to a Nafion® 112 membrane in "sandwich-like" fashion. Contrarily
to the conventional MEA assemblies known in the art, no extra liquid ionomer
was hence present in the manufactured MEA. In a subsequent fuel cell
characterisation, it was possible to generate 0.3 A/cm2 at about 0.8 V and 0.7
A/cm2 at about 0.7 V feeding pure hydrogen and air at 1.5 bar a, at a
stoichiometric ratio of 2 and with a cell temperature of 80°C.
The above description shall not be understood as limiting the invention, which
may be practised according to different embodiments without departing from the
scopes thereof, and whose extent is solely defined by the appended claims.
In the description and claims of the present application, the word "comprise"
and its variations such as "comprising" and "comprised" are not intended to
exclude the presence of other elements or additional components.

1. A method for forming a noble metal coating on a gas diffusion medium substantially free
of ionomeric components comprising subjecting an electrically conductive web to a first ion
beam having an energy not higher than 500 eV, and to a second beam having an energy of at
least 600 eV, containing the ions of at least one noble metal.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the resulting noble metal coating has a thickness
comprised between 5 and 500 nm and a loading of 0.01 to 0.1 mg/cm2.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein said first ion beam has an energy comprised between 100
and 500 eV and said second ion beam has an energy comprised between 500 and 2000 eV.
4. The method of any one of the previous claims wherein said at least one noble metal is
5. The method of claim 1, wherein said electrically conductive web is previously provided with
a noble metal-free gas diffusion layer comprising at least one electroconductive filler and at
least one binder.
5. The method of claim 5, wherein said electroconductive filler comprises carbon particles,
optionally acetylene black carbon particles.
7. The method of claim 5 or 6, wherein said binder is a hydrophobic binder, optionally
8. The method of any one of claims 5 to 7, wherein said gas diffusion layer has a smoothness
of at least 1000 Gurley seconds.
9. A gas diffusion electrode comprising an electrically conductive web, a non catalysed gas
diffusion layer comprising at least one electroconductive filler and at least one binder, and a
noble metal coating obtained by the method of any one of claims 1 to 5, said gas diffusion
electrode being substantially free of ionomeric components.
10. The gas diffusion electrode of claim 9, wherein the electronically conductive web is a
metal or a carbon cloth or a carbon paper.

11. The gas diffusion electrode of claim 9 wherein said at least one
electroconductive filler comprises carbon particles, optionally acetylene black
carbon particles.
12. The gas diffusion electrode of claim 9 wherein said at least one binder
is hydrophobic and optionally fluorinated.
13. The gas diffusion electrode of claim 9 wherein said gas diffusion layer
has a smoothness of at least 1000 Gurley-seconds.
14. A membrane-electrode assembly comprising at least one gas diffusion
electrode of anyone of claims 9 to 13 and an ion-exchange membrane.
15. The membrane-electrode assembly of claim 14 wherein said at least
one gas diffusion electrode and said ion-exchange membrane are mutually
bonded by hot pressing.
16 The membrane-electrode assembly of claim 14 or 15 wherein said ion-
exchange membrane is not fluorinated, and wherein no ionomeric fluorinated
component is present.

The invention is relative to gas diffusion electrodes, for use in fuel cells and other
electrochemical applications, obtained by direct metallisation of a gas diffusion medium
with low platinum loading, and to a membrane-electrode assembly incorporating the


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Patent Number 249938
Indian Patent Application Number 3578/KOLNP/2006
PG Journal Number 47/2011
Publication Date 25-Nov-2011
Grant Date 23-Nov-2011
Date of Filing 30-Nov-2006
Name of Patentee DE NORA ELETTRODI S.P.A
Applicant Address VIA BISTOLFI 35, 20134 MILAN, ITALY
# Inventor's Name Inventor's Address
PCT International Classification Number H01M 4/88
PCT International Application Number PCT/EP2005/006569
PCT International Filing date 2005-06-17
PCT Conventions:
# PCT Application Number Date of Convention Priority Country
1 11/070958 2005-03-03 U.S.A.
2 60/580739 2004-06-18 U.S.A.