Metal-free nitrogen-doped carbon materials are currently considered at the forefront of potential alternative cathode catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in fuel cell technology. Despite numerous efforts in this area over the past decade, rational design and development of a new catalyst system based on nitrogen-doped carbon materials via an innovative approach still present intriguing challenges in ORR catalysis research. Herein, a new kind of nitrogen-doped carbon nanoparticle-carbon nanofiber (NCNP-CNF) composite with highly efficient and stable ORR catalytic activity has been developed via a new approach assisted by a solution plasma process. The integration of NCNPs and CNFs by the solution plasma process can lead to a unique morphological feature and modify physicochemical properties. The NCNP-CNF composite exhibits a significantly enhanced ORR activity through a dominant four-electron pathway in an alkaline solution. The enhancement in ORR activity of NCNP-CNF composite can be attributed to the synergistic effects of good electron transport from highly graphitized CNFs as well as abundance of exposed catalytic sites and meso/macroporosity from NCNPs. More importantly, NCNP-CNF composite reveals excellent long-term durability and high tolerance to methanol crossover compared with those of a commercial 20 wt % supported on Vulcan XC-72. We expect that NCNP-CNF composite prepared by this synthetic approach can be a promising metal-free cathode catalyst candidate for ORR in fuel cells and metal-air batteries.
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