The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) at the cathode is a fundamental process and functions a pivotal role in fuel cells and metal–air batteries. However, the electrochemical performance of these technologies has been still challenged by the high cost, scarcity, and insufficient durability of the traditional Pt-based ORR electrocatalysts. Heteroatom-doped nanocarbon electrocatalysts with competitive activity, enhanced durability, and acceptable cost, have recently attracted increasing interest and hold great promise as substitute for precious-metal catalysts (e.g., Pt and Pt-based materials). More importantly, three-dimensional (3D) porous architecture appears to be necessary for achieving high catalytic ORR activity by providing high specific surface areas with more exposed active sites and large pore volumes for efficient mass transport of reactants to the electrocatalysts. In this review, recent progress on the design, fabrication, and performance of 3D heteroatom-doped nanocarbon catalysts is summarized, aiming to elucidate the effects of heteroatom doping and 3D structure on the ORR performance of nanocarbon catalysts, thus promoting the design of highly active nanocarbon-based ORR electrocatalysts.
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