(6b) Developing Enhanced Catalysts for Renewable Fuels through Spectroscopic Insights

Authors: 
Seitz, L. C., Michigan State University
Research Interests:

My research interests focus on the pursuit of fundamental understanding of catalytic reactions towards production of renewable fuels using insights from in situ and operando spectroscopy techniques uniquely adapted to investigate these catalytic materials. Increased global energy consumption along with heightened awareness of environmental, health, and political issues with fossil fuels are driving the need for efficient and economic conversion of renewable energy sources. Wind and sun provide more than enough energy to meet the growing demand, provided that challenges with intermittency, scale, and cost effectiveness can be overcome. These obstacles can be mitigated through development of highly active catalysts using abundant and inexpensive materials to convert solar and wind energy into fuels and chemicals.

My Ph.D. dissertation with Professor Thomas Jaramillo at Stanford University in the Department of Chemical Engineering focused on development of enhanced catalysts for electrochemical water splitting. Using a combination of electrochemical and spectroscopic techniques I was able to draw correlations between the structure, oxidation state, and catalytic activity of various transition metal oxide systems to gain a better understanding of their fundamental operation. For example, using x-ray absorption spectroscopy, I was able to track the changing oxidation state of a manganese-based catalyst in the presence and absence of a small amount of gold to understand why the addition of gold causes an order of magnitude increase in catalytic activity. During my Ph.D. I also developed a model to quantify loss mechanisms in photoelectrochemical water splitting based on the current state of materials research and to calculate maximum solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiencies. Knowledge of practical limits for this process can help researchers assess their technology and guide future directions.

Currently, I am in my first year of postdoctoral research with Professor Clemens Heske and Dr. Lothar Weinhardt at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in the Institute for Photon Science and Synchrotron Radiation. I was awarded a Fellowship by the Helmholtz Association Postdoc Programme to pursue my proposed project of using advanced spectroscopic techniques to investigate the chemical and electronic structure of catalysts under operating conditions. During my time here I plan to assist in the development of advanced experimental set-ups for in situ and operando soft x-ray spectroscopy measurements and expand the application of these techniques to study catalyst materials for electrochemical and thermochemical CO/CO2 reduction as well as NOx selective catalytic reduction. In situ hard and soft x-ray experiments for these reactions are just beginning to be realized and because these techniques are such a powerful probe to study electronic structure, there is great potential to expand work and knowledge in this area.

At the poster session I will present a more thorough overview of my past and present research, as well as my plan for future research activities which will continue to seek fundamental insight towards improving efficiency for the conversion of renewable energy sources to fuels and chemicals. By studying, understanding, and improving the various components of these technologies, it is my goal to help drive the field forward and provide an efficient and economical solution that can shift our global energy dependence away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

Teaching Interests:

In addition to serving as a teaching assistant during my undergraduate and graduate studies for computer programming and reaction kinetics courses, I have been an invited guest lecturer for various courses at Stanford University including graduate level Fundamentals and Applications of Spectroscopy, Electrochemical Energy Conversion, undergraduate Chemical Engineering Lab, and a Solar Fuels Master Class. I have also enjoyed mentoring graduate rotation students and a visiting masterâ??s student as well as volunteering at local schools for science demonstrations.