Abstract In this paper, a noble-metal-free electrocatalyst based on carbon-supported zirconium oxynitride (ZrO x N y /C) was prepared by ammonolysis of carbon-supported zirconia (ZrO 2/C) at 950 °C and investigated as cathode electrocatalyst towards oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in PEMFCs. The electrocatalyst was characterized by X-ray diffraction (XRD) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) techniques. The catalytic activity of the catalyst towards ORR was investigated by using the rotating disk electrode (RDE) technique in an O 2-saturated 0.5 M H 2SO 4 solution. The ZrO x N y /C electrocatalyst presented attractive catalytic activity for ORR. The onset potential of ZrO x N y /C electrocatalyst for oxygen reduction was 0.7 V versus RHE and the four-electron pathway for the ORR was achieved on the surface of ZrO x N y /C electrocatalyst. The ZrO x N y /C electrocatalyst showed a comparatively good cell performance to ORR in PEMFCs, especially when operated at a comparatively high temperature.