Atomic-scale design of electrocatalysts for renewable energy conversion and storage in energy-rich fuels
Rapidly decarbonizing our electricity, transport and industrial sectors has become one of the most pressing challenges of modern society, research and industry. Such a restructuring requires new clean fuels for the transport sector, new green synthesis routes in the chemical industry (i.e. hydrocarbon synthesis), and scalable energy storage options. As electricity generation from renewables becomes cheaper, large-scale synthesis of fuels and chemicals via electrocatalysis of CO2 and water to energy-rich fuels is particularly attractive. Copper is one of the catalysts that is able to yield C2+ products such as ethylene, ethanol and others, but tailoring the catalyst selectivity towards one specific product remains a challenge. Often, only H2, CO and other C1 products are observed.
The aim of this project is to understand how yield and selectivity in the CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) on copper electrodes (metallic copper and its oxides) can be tailored towards a single product. The approach will be to alter the electrode surface composition using atomic layer deposition (ALD) and understand the function of the ALD-modified surface in the catalytic reaction. ALD is a thin film deposition technique able to control material growth down to a monolayer or even thinner on flat substrates as well as within high aspect ratio nanostructures. As such, active sites can be engineered with atomic precision and their electrocatalytic performance can be studied on flat model systems as well as in high surface area electrode architectures. The emphasis on material characterisation will lie on the catalyst surface including the identification of the catalytically active site(s) (is it one single metal centre, a bimetallic active site, metal centre/defect, metal centre/oxide interface?) using state-of-the-art surface characterisation and operando electrochemical techniques.
You will have the opportunity to work amongst and learn from an interdisciplinary and supportive network of top researchers across Imperial College London with expertise in surface science, nanomaterials, catalysis and modelling theory, and connect to a cohort of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers through collaborations, research seminars and networking events.
A 3.5 year fully funded PhD studentship in the Department of Materials at Imperial College London open to UK and EU students who have been residents for 3 years. Students need to hold or achieve a Master’s degree in addition to a Bachelor's degree at UK Upper Second Class Honours Level or higher and meet the College’s English requirements. The annual stipend will be £17’285 (tax-free) and will cover home/EU tuition fees. The successful student can start on the 1st of October 2020.
Please submit your CV and cover letter, including full contact details of two referees, to [Email Address Removed].