A grand challenge of the 21st century is the development of efficient and sustainable means of energy conversion, distribution, and storage on a global scale. In the United States, the 2015 Energy Information Administration (EIA) annual review reported that ~81% of the total energy consumed was derived from fossil fuel sources (i.e., oil, coal, and natural gas) and the two largest consumption sectors were electricity (39%) and transportation (28%), both of which were dominated by fossil fuel sources (Annual Energy Outlook 2015). However, in the future, this energy mix will not be feasible (Rising above the Gathering Storm 2007). Rising population and continuing economic growth in the developing world are projected to double global energy consumption by 2050 (Annual Energy Outlook 2015). Non-renewable fossil fuel reserves, which took millennia to accumulate, are finite and rapidly exhausting. Analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicated that, to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at 350-400 ppm (near its current level), by 2050, global CO2 emissions would need reduced to a level of 20-50% of the 2000 emissions (Stocker et al. Climate Change 2013). Thus, a tremendous need exists for scientific and technological advances to address these challenges, sparking worldwide investment in low carbon / carbon neutral power generation, carbon capture and storage, and system-wide energy efficiency (Energy technology perspectives 2012, Denholm et al. The Role of Energy Storage 2010). Electrochemical energy storage and conversion will play a key role in any future scenario, as compared to combustion processes, electrochemical processes offer higher intrinsic conversion efficiencies, milder operating conditions, and greatly reduced concerns for air quality and climate change. Unfortunately, to date, many of these systems lack the power/energy density, cost-effectiveness, and operating lifetime to enable these new applications or to displace present fossil-based technologies.
Our research group focuses on advancing the science and engineering of high-performance, robust, and economical electrochemical systems. We employ microfluidic platforms and synchrotron-based imaging approaches, in combination with more traditional lab-scale analytical techniques, to understand the fundamental processes that limit the present systems. We are particularly interested in understanding the interplay between kinetic, transport, and degradation phenomena under realistic operating conditions. Then, based on this knowledge, we use engineering principles to design and evaluate electrochemically-active materials and to conceptualize and develop new electrochemical processes and systems.
Our research approach is broadly applicable, but we are presently focused on the following topics:
High Energy Low Cost Redox Flow Batteries: Enabling grid connected storage through new chemistries and architectures
CO2 Utilization: Using electrocatalytic systems to allow production of valuable chemicals from waste
Biomass Upgrading: Developing organic electrochemical reaction systems to transform biomass into chemically relevant products
Advanced Prototyping and Reactor Design: Providing new methods for electrochemical cell design and operation