An international grant will support pioneering research into a new class of catalysts that will enable the efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to higher-value chemicals and fuels. The National Science Foundation and the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation have awarded a three-year, $340,884 grant to support a groundbreaking research project led by Professor Ashwin Ramasubramaniam of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
According to Ramasubramaniam’s NSF proposal, the discovery and optimization of inexpensive catalytic materials is fundamental to fulfilling the urgent need for clean and sustainable sources of energy during the age of climate change. “In particular,” as the proposal says, “conversion of carbon dioxide to valuable chemical feedstocks and fuels, when complemented by renewable sources of energy, offers a promising route for sustainable management of carbon emissions, but the process is currently inefficient due to the lack of suitable catalysts.”
To address this challenge, a team of researchers from UMass Amherst and Ben Gurion University in Israel will analyze and evaluate catalysts that are engineered from materials abundant in the Earth's crust and inexpensive to process at large scales.
“Electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is a promising avenue for closing the carbon cycle, but is stymied at present by the lack of catalysts that are both active and selective at low over-potentials,” say the researchers. “This project focuses on earth-abundant electrocatalysts, based on semi-metallic phases of the molybdenum and tungsten family of layered transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs), with the goal of addressing these demanding catalytic performance requirements.”
According to the proposal, an integrated approach, using theory, synthesis, and characterization, will facilitate the rational design of transition-metal, shell nanoparticles, in which the electrochemically active, semi-metallic phases of molybdenum and tungsten TMDCs are preferentially stabilized throughout the ground-state, semiconducting phases. In particular, stabilization of the semi-metallic phases will not rely on conventional kinetic trapping approaches, but will be achieved instead by charge-transfer interactions between the metallic cores and the TMDC shells. This process will provide a greater degree of robustness against the undesirable phase transition from a semimetal to a semiconductor.
“Fundamental advances in the development of such phase-engineered, core-shell nanoparticles project far-reaching scientific impact in the fields of two-dimensional materials and nanoscale catalysis,” say the researchers, “while also enabling renewable energy technologies.”
The research program is integrated with formative research opportunities for undergraduates from minority-serving institutions, thereby nurturing the next generation of materials scientists and engineers. Presentations to students and the broader public in Western Massachusetts and Israel on issues associated with nanotechnology and its applications in renewable energy further extend the impact of this research. Personnel exchanges between partner institutions will also enhance the US-Israel scientific collaboration. (September 2018)