Abstract The characteristics of a platinum–ruthenium catalyst supported on porous carbon (PC) are analysed by X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, cyclic voltammetry and chemisorption techniques. Single-cell tests are carried out in order to compare the performance of these catalysts as an anode in a direct methanol fuel cell with respect to that of a commercial-grade catalyst. The methanol oxidation rate on a Pt–Ru catalyst supported on PC with a pore size of 20 nm is about 35% higher than that on a commercial E-TEK catalyst. The catalyst (Pt–Ru/K20) in the single-cell test gives a power density of 90 and 126 mW cm −2 under air and oxygen at 60 °C, respectively. These values are 15–16% higher than those obtained with a commercial E-TEK catalyst.