Nanocrystal Electrocatalysis

The ultimate goal of catalysis research is to achieve 100% selectivity for the desired products at maximum turnover rate (activity) without generating undesired byproducts. Methods for optimizing activity and selectivity have been investigated on the atomic and nanoscopic levels using shape, size, and composition control in nanocrystal synthesis. Incorporating two or more elements in a given material can provide multifunctional surface sites or materials properties not possible with a single element. Compositional gradients and specific elemental positioning can further tune the surface properties, as can shape and size control to expose desired surface facets. On a macroscopic level, nanocrystals are precisely arranged on supporting substrates to achieve desired functionality. One-dimensional supports can provide directionality for catalyst deposition. Two-dimensional supports can provide a platform for highly oriented arrays of nanoparticles, while three-dimensional supports provide the capability to obtain extremely high loading density and activity. Atomically-sensitive characterization techniques both ex situ and in situ allow the underlying mechanisms of selectivity and activity enhancement to be elucidated for a given nanocrystal design.
CO2 recycling powered by renewable energy represents an attractive approach to limiting harmful carbon emissions while simultaneously enabling the synthesis of useful chemicals and fuels. It ultimately enables the storage of renewable electricity in chemical form. To advance this technology toward practical deployment, fundamental and applied research is needed to perfect catalysts that implement the electrochemical conversion of CO2. Catalysts will be required to produce valuable reduced-carbon products with vastly improved selectivity, function with order-of-magnitude higher current densities, and demonstrate stable operation. The group is actively working on catalysts that would enable a carbon-neutral, renewable-powered future.

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