Au nanoparticles (AuNPs) supported on activated carbon (Au/C) were prepared by a modified chemical reduction method. The morphology, structure, surface chemical state and electro-oxidation activity of AuNPs were investigated by the transmission electron microscope (TEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), cyclic voltammetry (CV) and chronoamperometry. Results indicated that the Au/C catalyst possessed small AuNPs with a certain number of gold oxide species. This intrinsic property resulted in the high catalytic activity of the Au/C catalyst for the electro-oxidation of alcohol molecule. The peak values of anodic mass-specific current densities on AuNPs reached 69.5, 442 and 660 mA mg-1Au, respectively in 0.1 M KOH solutions with 6 M methanol, 2 M ethanol and 0.5 M ethylene glycol. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.