Electrolysis of water is the most promising route to produce hydrogen without CO2 emissions. However, the process requires very efficient electrocatalysts to be economically viable. Furthermore, particularly at the oxygen-evolving electrode, the environment is extremely corrosive and therefore catalysts must also be extremely stable.
Development is hampered by a poor understanding of both the reaction mechanisms of the electrocatalysts and the corrosion/deactivation pathways. To truly understand how an electrocatalyst works, it is critical to study it whilst it is in operation – known as an operando measurement. Coupling in spectroscopic techniques to an electrochemical cell is a technical challenge and the surface of an operating electrocatalyst is a complex environment with potential changes in chemical environment, crystallographic structure and electronic structure.
In this PhD, you will explore a correlative approach by combining multiple, complementary spectroscopic techniques in order to gain new insight into electrocatalysts for water electrolysis.
The Walton Group are experts in X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS). XPS is a spectroscopic technique which is a powerful probe of surface chemistry and catalyst redox state. BUT is not sufficient on its own to understand electrocatalyst materials. It gives chemical but not structural information about the catalyst, and in the case of complex systems can be ambiguous. A multi-technique, correlative methodology is needed to gain a holistic understanding of the electrocatalysts during operation. Optical techniques lack the chemical specificity of XPS BUT have the advantages of direct access to structural and electronic information. Furthermore, they are considerably easier to integrate into an electrochemical cell than XPS, requiring fewer compromises on cell design.
The objectives of this PhD project will be:
1) Integrate optical spectroscopy into XPS, enabling correlated measurements
2) Develop stand-alone operando optical spectroscopy in well-benchmarked electrochemical cells
3) Apply these new capabilities to industrially relevant electrocatalysts and gain new mechanistic insights
Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.
We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder).