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Advanced Functional Materials for Energy Related Applications


The current global heavy dependency on fossil fuels gives rise to two critical problems: I) fossil fuels will be depleted in the near future; II) the release of green house gas CO2 generated by the combustion of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. To potentially address both problems, this dissertation documents three primary areas of investigation related to the development of alternative energy sources: electrocatalysts for fuel cells, photocatalysts for hydrogen generation, and photoreduction catalysts for converting CO2 to CH4.

Fuel cells could be a promising source of alternative energy. Decreasing the cost and improving the durability and power density of Pt/C as a catalyst for reducing oxygen are major challenges for developing fuel cells. To address these concerns, we have synthesized a Nitrogen-Sulfur-Iron-doped porous carbon material. Our results indicate that the synthesized catalyst exhibits not only higher current density and stability but also higher tolerance to crossover chemicals than the commercial Pt/C catalyst. More importantly, the synthetic method is simple and inexpensive.

Using photocatalysts and solar energy is another potential alternative solution for energy demand. We have synthesized a new biomimetic heterogeneous photocatalyst through the incorporation of homogeneous complex 1 [(í-SCH2)2NC(O)C5H4N]-Fe2(CO)6] into the highly robust zirconium-porphyrin based metal-organic framework (ZrPF). As photosensitizer ZrPF absorbs the visible light and produces photoexcited electrons that can be transferred through axial covalent bond to di-nuclear complex 1 for hydrogen generation.

Additionally, we have studied the photoreduction of CO2 to CH4 using self-doped TiO2 (Ti+3@TiO2) as photocatalytic materials. The incorporation of Ti3+ into TiO2 structures narrows the band gap, leading to significantly increased photocatalytic activity for the reduction of CO2 into renewable hydrocarbon fuel in the presence of water vapor under visible light.

Finally, we demonstrate that open-framework chalcogenides can also be used as efficient photocatalysts for the reduction of CO2 to CH4. These materials contain covalent superlattices of nanosized supertetrahedral clusters, which can be made with different metal cations to provide high electrical conductivity and current density as well as materials with different band gaps. The ability in incorporating different metal cations further enhances the material’s photocatalytic activity, which could possibly provide alternative technologies for reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and simultaneously producing fuel.

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