Direct Growth of Carbon Nanofibers to Generate a 3D Porous Platform on a Metal Contact to Enable an Oxygen Reduction Reaction

For carbon nanotube-based electronics to achieve their full performance potential, it is imperative to minimize the contact resistance between macroscale metal contacts and the carbon nanotube (CNT) nanoelectrodes. We have developed a three-dimensional electrode platform that consists of carbon nanofibers (CNFs) that are directly grown on a metal contact, such as copper (Cu). Carbon nanofiber morphology can be tailored by adjusting the annealing time of a thin electrochemically deposited nickel catalyst layer on copper. We demonstrate that increasing the annealing time increases the amount of copper infused into the nickel catalyst layer. This reduces the carbon deposition rate, and consequently a more well-defined CNF 3D architecture can be fabricated. This direct growth of CNFs on a Cu substrate yields an excellent electron transfer pathway, with contact resistance between CNFs and Cu being comparable to that of a Cu–Cu interface. Furthermore, the excellent bonding strength between CNFs and Cu can be maintained over prolonged periods of ultrasonication. The porous 3D platform affixed with intertwined CNFs allows facile surface functionalization. Using a simple solution soaking procedure, the CNF surface has been successfully functionalized with iron(II) phthalocyanine (FePc). FePc functionalized CNFs exhibit excellent oxygen reduction capability, equivalent to platinum–carbon electrodes. This result demonstrates the technological promise of this new 3D electrode platform that can be exploited in other applications that include sensing, battery, and supercapacitors.