Our research is focused on tackling issues such as carbon dioxide reduction, improving grid flexibility, characterizing multiphase flow in reactors, and developing sustainable clothing. We welcome you to take a look at the specific projects below.
The Solar Textiles project explores approaches for the production of polymers from renewable feedstock and solar energy as the only energy input and in this way contributing towards the development of a sustainable chemical industry. The synthesis of Nylon 6,6 has been selected as a model polymer production process, given the importance of the polymer for a wide range of commercial applications, the large scale of the Nylon market (>6 million tons, >USD 20 billion market) and its high value (3.6-4 USD/kg). This makes Nylon a perfect target for large-scale chemical processes that can be adapted to efficiently operate using renewable feedstocks and energy resources. The proposed approach is focused on the combined solar thermo- and electro-chemical synthesis of hexanediamine (HDA), one of the precursors for Nylon 6,6 synthesis. The process is divided by the spectrally selective absorption of UV and Visible irradiation by photovoltaic (PV) arrays, which drive the electrochemical reduction of aqueous streams of acrylonitrile (ACN) to adiponitrile (ADN) and hydrogen (H2). ACN could be sourced from biomass derivatives and be considered a renewable feedstock. The products of the electrochemical reactors will then be fed to a solar thermochemical reactor, which will use the transmitted infrared (IR) radiation from the PV array in a concentrated fashion to carry out the hydrogenation of ADN to HDA in the gas phase at high temperatures (> 300 ˚C). The reactor design principles and integrated solar chemical synthesis processes developed within this proposal, will become the foundation for the conception of a full production process for Nylon 6,6 only requiring the sun, water and CO2 as input. This is a collaborative between the Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering at EPFL, and our group at NYU.
Materials for Electrochemical Catalyst Layers
A major focus of our research is the design of material systems that facilitate pathways for electrochemical reactions. This requires substantial effort towards designing and optimizing catalyst layers, where electrochemical transformations take place. Designing efficient reaction pathways requires understanding the transport requirements of a particular system and developing design rules for the materials in which these processes occur. The bulk of our work investigates liquid and solid electrolytes to emphasize charge and mass transport for water splitting and CO2 reduction applications. With the same concerns regarding the interplay between material, structure, and function, we are investigating methods to precisely and systematically vary the geometry of nanostructured electrodes to gain a more complete understanding of how the nanoscale structure of a catalyst impacts the reaction system.
Advanced Electrolysis Devices
In order to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, renewable energy technology has recently made significant strides in recent years. However, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, are plagued by intermittency and the loss of usable energy. In order to be able to utilize as much of this energy as possible and stabilize the energy output from these resources, large-scale energy storage systems need to be developed. Batteries have done wonders for small-scale, portable energy storage, but the technology is difficult to scale up. Redox Flow Batteries (RFBs) on the other hand, have been shown to provide a high energy storage capacity that depends on the concentration, type of redox species, and the volume of material. Currently, RFBs suffer from low energy density, so the goal of this research is to improve on the RFB model to create devices with superior energy storage capabilities. Because of this, we are working towards developing an electrochemical system that, when implemented, would be able to supply energy to areas affected by storms and natural disasters more efficiently than current methods.