Advanced Electrochemical Reactors for Green Chemical and Fuel Production

Materials Chemistry; Inorganic Chemistry; Catalysis and Reaction Engineering

This project will leverage expertise in molecular design, materials and additive manufacturing to develop novel electrochemical reactors for conversion of renewable energy to fuels and chemicals

Research Interests
  • renewable energy
  • Catalysis for energy process, large chemical processes and organic synthesis
  • electrocatalysis
  • additive manufacturing
  • advanced materials

Scaled use of renewable energy sources is arguably among society's most pressing challenges. Increased access to renewable electricity (solar-, wind-, and hydro-electricity) has influenced new technological advances for more sustainable approaches to transform the chemical and fuel industry in place today. Processes historically powered by fossil fuel combustion are shifting with increasing momentum toward renewability and environmental friendliness, allowing transition to a sustainable and clean energy future. Using renewable electricity as energy input, electrochemical reactors have been considered as the most promising disruptive technology in converting sustainable feedstocks into valuable chemicals and fuels with minimized carbon emission and environmental impact. For example, electricity from solar energy (converted by photovoltaics) can be used to provide the energy to drive chemical processes to produce fuel or high value chemicals. Despite the advantages, conventional electrochemical reactors are limited by low-performance electrode materials that lead to low reaction rate, poor product selectivity, short lift-time and high cost of reactors. Therefore, a significant leap in electrode design and manufacturing for highly efficient electrochemical reactors is critical to the paradigm shift in green chemical and fuel production. Central to the advancement of electrochemical reactors is controlling the solid electrode material structure and architecture. In this project, we propose a new collaboration between experts from Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering to develop next-generation electrochemical reactors that are based on additively manufactured electrode materials with functional catalyst modification. Such electrode architecture will provide an unprecedented opportunity to maximize the chemical/fuel production rate and energy conversion efficiency due to optimized mass transfer properties, which will be achieved via tailoring the ordered porous structure of the electrodes and improving catalytic properties from anchored catalysts. This research will substantially accelerate the large-scale application of electrochemical reactors, and potentially transform green chemical and fuel industries in the US. The project requires expertise in molecular design, advanced conducting materials and additive manufacturing, and, thus, is ideally suited for the 3Cavaliers program. 

Desired outcomes

Success of this project will increase knowledge in material design, energy conversion, electrochemistry, and materials fabrication; and will also promote teaching, training, and learning at UVA. The proposed research will impact the current chemical, fuel, materials and energy industries by demonstrating a new strategy to design and manufacture advanced electrode materials for next-generation electrochemical reactors. The output of this research will align with the broad goals of multiple research funding agencies to diversify energy supply and reduce the dependence on non-renewable energy sources. Our goal is ambitious as we target a program to place UVA as a national leader in sustainable energy conversion and green chemistry and fuel technologies. The central theme of this project aligns well with larger scale multidisciplinary collaborative initiatives at UVA, in particular the MAXNET Energy Consortium. This funding is expected to seed the cross-disciplinary collaboration between the participant researchers and result in new research scholarship, publications and, potentially, intellectual property. The results will be used to write grants to secure external funding from agencies such as DOE-EERE, DOE-EFRC, DARPA, ARPA-E, and NSF.