Decades of research on electrochemical CO2 reduction has brought the science to the cusp of the commercialization, with specialty chemicals already in industrial production. Our group's research uses the principles of electrocatalysis, electrochemical engineering, materials science, and computational power to develop electrolyzers that will make an order of magnitude leap in cell area, power, and efficiency.
Operando Electrochemical Characterization
Reactor design encompasses engineering the scale, transport, kinetics, and stability of electrolytic reactors. To this end, this area of our research seeks to understand material interactions within Membrane Electrode Assemblies used in CO2 Electrolysis. Understanding the interrelationship between ionomers, catalysts, membranes, and gas diffusion media will optimize reactant and product transport, kinetics, and distribution. We also utilize spatial differences in the electrochemical reaction to develop novel reactor diagnostics to better understand these relationships.
Operando electrochemical characterization can provide incredibly valuable information about the electrochemical microenvironment where the reaction takes place. We utilize several probes to understand the electrode surface chemistry, including electrochemical Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), SEIRAS, operando cyclic voltammetry, and other novel techniques currently in development. These techniques hope to develop an understanding of the electrochemical double layer, the active reactant species, and the nature of ionomer and water activity in the catalyst microenviornment.
To understand electrochemical processes at the atomistic scale, we leverage computational tools such as the Joint Density Functional Theory software (JDFTx), which accounts for solvation and applied bias, and the Large-scale Atomic/Molecular Massively Parallel Simulator (LAMMPS), which accounts for molecular dynamics at the double layer. Additionally, we utilize continuum modeling to understand reactor-level phase behavior. These techniques are enhanced by our access to CU’s Summit and NREL’s Eagle supercomputing systems.
To realize electrochemical systems that can be readily integrated to meet society's needs, we need to understand how they can be integrated with current and future energy systems. Technoeconomic analysis is a powerful tool to understand which operational conditions are realistic for CO2 reduction systems. Life cycle analysis is implemented to understand design criteria for the durability of reactor materials. These insights provide feedback loops with the Reactor Design team.
We are investigating carbon capture (CC) technologies for industrialization, as current CC plants are several orders of magnitude too small to make appreciable amounts of carbon products from CO2 reduction.
We are exploring further chemical processes that can be powered electrochemically, including conversion of methane and anodic reactions to couple to CO2 reduction.
Our research leverages decades of work at NREL in fuel cells, including parallel world-class electrochemical testing capabilities and computational supremacy. More information is available on our Facilities & Equipment page.
One of our lab spaces is located in the SEEC building on CU Boulder's East Campus, housed in the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI). Here we share an open, collaborative environment with neighboring labs working on renewable energy, along with our spectroscopic equipment.
Our reactor engineering research takes place at NREL's Energy & Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) building, where we work in parallel with researchers that have been developing scaled electrochemical devices for decades. Pictured here is NREL's 40 kW water electrolyzer: https://www.nrel.gov/hydrogen/fuel-cells.html