Electrocatalytic Energy Conversion at Solid-Liquid Interfaces

Project Title: Electrocatalytic Energy Conversion at Solid-Liquid Interfaces

Principle Investigator: Xiaofeng Feng

Schematic illustration of a new mechanism for the palladium-hydride-mediated electrochemical hydrogenation of dinitrogen to ammonia, which may provide an alternative to the Haber−Bosch process for sustainable ammonia production.

Project Description:
Research conducted in the Feng group focuses on understanding the mechanism of electrocatalytic reactions at solid-liquid interfaces and developing efficient electrocatalysts for renewable energy conversion. Electrocatalysis plays a key role in the energy conversion processes that are central to renewable energy technologies such as fuel cells and electrolyzers. In most cases, poor catalyst performance is the major source of efficiency loss for the entire device. To develop efficient electrocatalysts, we need to establish design principles based on our understanding of the structure–activity relationships. We will use in situ scanning probe microscopy and synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopy to probe solid-liquid interfaces and reveal new active sites and reaction mechanisms. The understandings will be used to guide the design and synthesis of electrocatalysts for renewable energy conversion. Various synthesis methods such as vapor deposition, electrodeposition, and colloidal synthesis will be tailored to prepare catalytic materials, which will be characterized using advanced techniques such as transmission electron microscopy (TEM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), etc.

Successful applicants interested in conducting summer projects within this group will work closely with graduate students to carry out research related to electrochemical ammonia synthesis. Such projects are likely to focus on: (1) developing metal nanocatalysts for electrochemical reduction of N2 to NH3 under ambient conditions; (2) understanding structure-activity relationships of the catalytic materials for N2 reduction; (3) implementing the metal catalysts into electrochemical cells with gas-diffusion electrodes and optimizing the catalytic performance. The ultimate specifics of the project will be determined on the basis of student interests and group needs at the time of the program. In addition to contributing to the day-to-day scientific objectives, the successful applicant will also gain valuable experience in materials synthesis, advanced materials characterization, and electrochemical techniques.