Wide proliferation of low temperature hydrogen fuel cell systems, a key part of the hydrogen economy, is hindered by degradation of the platinum cathode catalyst. Here, we provide a device level assessment of the molecular scale catalyst degradation phenomena, using advanced operando X-ray scattering tomography tailored for device-scale imaging. Each cell component, including the catalyst, carbon support, polymer electrolyte, and liquid water can be simultaneously mapped, allowing for deep correlative analysis. Chemical and thermal gradients formed inside the operating fuel cell produce highly heterogeneous degradation of the catalyst nano structure, which can be linked to the macroscale design of the flowfield and water distribution in the cell materials. Striking differences in catalyst degradation are observed between operating fuel cell devices and the liquid cell routinely used for catalyst stability studies, highlighting the rarely studied but crucial impact of the complex operating environment on the catalyst degradation phenomena. This degradation knowledge gap highlights the necessity of multimodal in situ characterization of real devices when assessing the performance and durability of electrocatalysts.
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