The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) activity of Pt-alloy electrocatalysts depends on (i) the strain/ligand effects induced by the non-noble metal (3d-transition metal or a rare-earth element) alloyed to Pt, (ii) the orientation of the catalytic surfaces, and (iii) the density of structural defects (SDs) (e.g., vacancies, voids, interconnections). These SDs influence the “generalized” coordination number of Pt atoms, the Pt-alloy lattice parameter, and thus the adsorption strength of the ORR intermediates (O*, OH*, OOH*). Here, we discuss a set of parameters derived from COads stripping measurements and the Rietveld refinement of X-ray diffraction (XRD) patterns, aiming to show how the leaching of the non-noble metal and the density of SDs influence the ORR activity of porous hollow PtNi/C nanoparticles (PH-PtNi/C NPs). PH-PtNi/C NPs were aged at T = 353 K in an Ar-saturated 0.1 M HClO4 electrolyte during 20 000 potential cycles between E = 0.6 and 1.0 V versus the reversible hydrogen electrode, with an intermediate characterization after 5000 cycles. The losses in the ORR specific activity were attributed to the dissolution of Ni atoms (modifying strain/ligand effects) and to the increase of the crystallite size (dXRD), resulting in a diminution of the density of grain boundaries. In agreement with the Gibbs–Thompson equation, the electrocatalysts that presented larger crystallites (dXRD > 3 nm) were far more stable than the ones with the smallest crystallites (dXRD < 2 nm). We also observed that performing intermediate characterizations (in an O2-saturated electrolyte) results in activity losses for the ORR.
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