An alternative, low-dissolution counter electrode to prevent deceptive enhancement of HER overpotential

Menna M. Hasan, The American University in Cairo (AUC)
Nageh K. Allam, The American University in Cairo (AUC)


Electrochemical hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) is typically studied in three-electrode system. In this system, several counter electrodes are commonly used to ensure fast kinetics, including Pt, gold, and glassy carbon. However, the extensive application of such electrodes has raised caveats on the contribution of the redox-active species dissolving from such electrodes and redepositing on the surface of the working electrode to the measured overpotential. Consequently, this has been frequently confused with the actual electrochemical signature of the working electrode catalyst, resulting in a deceptive enhancement in the recorded overpotential. This issue becomes more critical when the electrolysis measurements involve an activation step, necessitating the need for alternative counter electrodes that are stable, especially in acidic medium, which is commonly used as the electrolyte in HER studies. Herein, while we systematically unveil such problems, an alternative counter electrode that overcomes those problems is demonstrated. Specifically, the correlation between the working electrode area to that of the counter electrode, the dissolution rate of the counter electrode, and the potential range used in the activation/cleaning of the surface on accelerating the dissolution rate is explored and discussed in detail. Finally, commercial Ti mesh is demonstrated as an alternative emerging counter electrode, which is proven to be very stable and convenient to study the HER in acidic media.