(6p) Electrocatalysis for Sustainable Energy Technologies

Higgins, D., Stanford University


Drew Higgins, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University


Achieving a sustainable energy economy is among the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Electrochemical energy storage and conversion devices (i.e., batteries, fuel cells, electrolyzers) will be integral components of clean energy infrastructures, as they boast zero emission operation and high theoretical efficiencies. These systems, however, are not currently techno-economically viable at scale, primarily due to electrocatalyst limitations. My research interests lie in the development and device integration of advanced, high performance electrocatalysts. These materials have the potential to address the performance, durability and cost challenges facing many emerging clean electrochemical technologies. The ultimate goal is to transform the landscape of the energy sector by providing cost competitive devices that can be applied in the transportation sector, grid scale energy storage, or industrial applications.


My career goal is to manage a research group at an academic institution that works on the cutting edge of clean energy technologies, particularly with respect to energy transformations and electrocatalysis. In the short term, my research will be focused on two thrust areas: (1) Electrochemical Carbon Dioxide Reduction, an integral process of artificial photosynthesis that converts CO2 directly into fuels or industrial chemicals; and (2) Oxygen Electrocatalysis,the most pertinent and performance limiting processes occurring in fuel cell and electrolyzer devices. I envision early work focusing on the development of new electrocatalyst materials that will be characterized and electrochemically evaluated to understand performance capabilities. The best in class electrocatalysts will be engineered into electrode structures for device performance testing and optimization.

In the long term, my vision is to lead a research program that spans: (1) Fundamental Electrocatlaysis/Surface Science; (2) Electrocatalyst Design and Synthesis; and (3) Electrochemical Device Design, Integration and Prototype Demonstration. These three core areas will be strategically integrated to operate in a feedback loop, whereby new knowledge generated in one area will be applied to achieve advances in other areas. Over time, this research program will be expanded to encompass different thrust areas that are synergistic with those listed above, including hydrogen electrochemistry, new battery chemistries (i.e., metal-air or sodium-ion) and electrochemical purification techniques. The overarching goals of this research program will be two-fold. First, is to develop innovative material solutions and technologies that address the pertinent energy and environmental challenges facing the modern world. Second, is to educate and train the next generation of scientists and engineers that will be lifelong contributors in this sector of increasing global importance. Academic, industrial and government collaborations will be fostered and leveraged to establish an interdisciplinary research environment, and to provide targeted training and avenues for research personnel to enter the workforce.


Banting Postdoctoral Fellow â?? Chemical Engineering (start date, Sep 2015)

Stanford University, Stanford, California

Supervisor: Dr. Thomas Jaramillo

  • Electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to produce fuels and chemical products
  • Physical vapour deposition of binary metallic thin films to serve as model electrocatalyst systems
  • Integration of electrodes into carbon dioxide electrolysis cell for performance testing and product detection

 Visiting Scholar â?? Materials Physics and Applications 11 (Jan 2014 â?? Dec 2014)

Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico

Supervisor: Dr. Piotr Zelenay

  • Synthesis and integration of non-precious metal catalysts into polymer electrolyte fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies for performance validation

 PhD and MASc â?? Department of Chemical Engineering(2009 â??2015)

University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario

Supervisor: Dr. Zhongwei Chen

  • Synthesis, characterization and electrochemical evaluation of nanostructured oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution catalysts

Undergraduate Researcher â?? Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering(2007, 2008)

University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario

Supervisor: Dr. Jingxu (Jesse) Zhu


  • Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • NSERC Discovery Grants Program
  • 2 x NSERC Strategic Project Grants
  • 3 x NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grants
  • Ontario Centres of Excellence: Collaborative Research Program
  • Ontario Centres of Excellence: Voucher for Commercialization
  • Ontario Research Fund: Small Infrastructure Fund
  • NSERC Postgraduate Fellowship
  • Ontario Graduate Scholarship


  • Graduate Student Mentor, Stanford University (2015 â?? present), University of Waterloo (2012 -2015)
  • Guest Lecturer for ChE 331, ChE 102 and NE 491, University of Waterloo (2012 - 2015)
  • Certificate of University Teaching Program, University of Waterloo (2012 â?? 2013)
  • Fundamentals of University Teaching Program, University of Waterloo (2011)
  • Teaching Assistant for ChE 331 and ChE 290, University of Waterloo (2010 â?? 2011)


  1. D. Higgins, P. Zamani, A. Yu, Z. Chen, â??The application of graphene and its composites in oxygen reduction electrocatalysis: a perspective and review of recent progressâ?, Energy & Environmental Science, 9 (2016) 357-390.
  2. D. Higgins, F. Hassan, M. Seo, J. Choi, A. Hoque, D. Lee, Z. Chen, â??Shape-controlled octahedral cobalt disulfide nanoparticles supported on nitrogen and sulfur-doped graphene/carbon nanotube composites for oxygen reduction in acidic electrolyteâ?, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 3 (2015) 6340-6350. Featured on the back cover of the associated issue.
  3. A. Hoque, F. Hassan, D. Higgins, J. Choi, M. Pritzker, S. Knights, S. Ye, Z. Chen, â??Multigrain platinum nanowires consisting of oriented nanoparticles anchored on sulfur-doped graphene as a highly active and durable oxygen reduction electrocatalystâ?, Advanced Materials, 27 (2015) 1229-1234.
  4. D. Higgins, R. Wang, A. Hoque, P. Zamani, S. Abureden, Z. Chen, â??Morphology and composition controlled platinum-cobalt alloy nanowires prepared by electrospinning as oxygen reduction catalystâ?, Nano Energy, 10 (2014) 135-143.
  5. D. Higgins, A. Hoque, M. Seo, R. Wang, F. Hassan, J. Choi, M. Pritzker, A. Yu, J. Zhang, Z. Chen, â??Development and Simulation of Sulfur-doped Graphene Supported Platinum with Exemplary Stability and Activity Towards Oxygen Reductionâ?, Advanced Functional Materials, 24 (2014) 4325-4336. Accepted as VIP article and featured on front-piece of the associated issue.
  6. D. Higgins, A. Hoque, F. Hassan, J. Choi, B. Kim, Z. Chen, â??Oxygen Reduction on Graphene-Carbon Nanotube Composites Doped Sequentially with Nitrogen and Sulfurâ?, ACS Catalysis, 4 (2014) 2734-2740.
  7. V. Chabot, D. Higgins, A. Yu, X. Xiao, Z. Chen, J. Zhang, â??A Review of Graphene and Graphene Oxide Sponge: Material Synthesis and Applicationsâ?, Energy & Environmental Science, 7 (2014) 1564-1596.
  8. D. Higgins, Z. Chen, D. Lee, Z. Chen, â??Activated and nitrogen-doped exfoliated graphene as air electrodes for metal-air battery applicationsâ?, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 1 (2013) 2639-2645.
  9. D. Higgins, Z. Chen, â??Recent progress in non-precious metal catalysts for PEM fuel cell applicationsâ?, Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, 91 (2013) 1881-1895.
  10. J. Liao, D. Higgins, G. Liu, V. Chabot, X. Xiao, Z. Chen, â??Multifunctional TiO2@C/MnO2 Core@Double-shell Nanowire Array as a High Performance 3D Electrode for Li-ion batteriesâ?, Nano Letters, 13 (2013) 5467-5473.
  11. D. Higgins, J. Choi, J. Wu, A. Lopez, Z. Chen, â??Titanium nitride carbon nanotube core-shell composites as effective electrocatalyst supports for low temperature fuel cellsâ?, Journal of Materials Chemistry, 22 (2012) 3727-3732.
  12. D. Higgins, J. Wu, W. Li, Z. Chen, â??Cyanamide derived thin film on carbon nanotubes as metal free oxygen reduction reaction electrocatalystâ?, Electrochimica Acta, 59 (2012) 8-13.
  13. D. Higgins, Z. Chen, S. Ye, S. Knights, â??Highly Durable Platinum-Cobalt Nanowires by Microwave Irradiation as Oxygen Reduction Catalyst for PEM Fuel Cellâ?, Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters, 6 (2012) B83-B85.
  14. Z. Chen, A. Yu, D. Higgins, H. Wang, H. Liu, Z. Chen, â??Highly Active and Durable Core-Corona Structured Bifunctional Catalyst for Rechargeable Metal-Air Battery Applicationâ?, Nano Letters, 69 (2012) 1946-1952.
  15. D. Higgins, Z. Chen, Z. Chen, â??Nitrogen doped carbon nanotubes synthesized from aliphatic diamines for the oxygen reduction reactionâ?, Electrochimica Acta, 56 (2011) 1570-1575.
  16. 16. Z. Chen, D. Higgins, A. Yu, L. Zhang, J. Zhang, â??A Review on Non-precious Metal Electrocatalysts for PEM Fuel Cellsâ?, Energy & Environmental Science, 4 (2011) 3167-3192.
  17. D. Higgins, D. Meza, Z. Chen, â??Nitrogen Doped Carbon Nanotubes as Platinum Catalyst Supports for Oxygen Reduction Reaction in PEM Fuel Cellsâ?, The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, 114 (2010) 21981-21988.
  18. W. Li, A. Yu, D. Higgins, B. Llanos, Z. Chen, â??Biologically Inspired Highly Durable Iron Phthalocyanine Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction Reaction in PEM Fuel Cellsâ?, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 132 (2010) 17056-17058.

Research Interests: (see above)

Teaching Interests: (see above)


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