Multi-walled carbon nanocoils (MWNCs) are synthesized by chemical vapour deposition and nitrogen-doped MWNCs (N-MWNCs) are obtained by nitrogen plasma treatment. MWNCs and N-MWNCs are used as catalyst supports for platinum nanoparticles. Pt nanoparticles are dispersed over these support materials using the conventional chemical reduction technique and then used for the oxygen reduction reaction in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. The morphology and structure of the MWNC-based powder samples are studied by means of scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and Raman spectroscopy. Full cells are constructed with Pt-loaded MWNC/N-MWNC and the results are discussed. A maximum power density of 550 and 490 mW cm -2 is obtained with Pt/N-MWNC and Pt/MWNC as the ORR catalyst, respectively. The improved performance of a fuel cell with a N-MWNC catalyst support can be attributed to the creation of pyrrolic nitrogen defects due to the nitrogen plasma treatment. These defects act as good anchoring sites for the deposition of Pt nanoparticles and to the increased electrical conductivity and improved carbon-catalyst binding. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.