Ruthenium oxide (RuO2) is the best oxygen evolution reaction (OER) electrocatalyst. Herein, we demonstrated that RuO2 can be also efficiently used as an oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) electrocatalyst, thereby serving as a bifunctional material for rechargeable Zn-air batteries. We found two forms of RuO2 (i.e. hydrous and anhydrous, respectively h-RuO2 and ah-RuO2) to show different ORR and OER electrocatalytic characteristics. Thus, h-RuO2 required large ORR overpotentials, although it completed the ORR via a 4e process. In contrast, h-RuO2 triggered the OER at lower overpotentials at the expense of showing very unstable electrocatalytic activity. To capitalize on the advantages of h-RuO2 while improving its drawbacks, we designed a unique structure (RuO2@C) where h-RuO2 nanoparticles were embedded in a carbon matrix. A double hydrophilic block copolymer-templated ruthenium precursor was transformed into RuO2 nanoparticles upon formation of the carbon matrix via annealing. The carbon matrix allowed overcoming the limitations of h-RuO2 by improving its poor conductivity and protecting the catalyst from dissolution during OER. The bifunctional RuO2@C catalyst demonstrated a very low potential gap (ΔE OER-ORR = ca. 1.0 V) at 20 mA cm-2. The Zn||RuO2@C cell showed an excellent stability (i.e. no overpotential was observed after more than 40 h).
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