384120 Understanding Artificial Photosynthesis Systems from the Nanoscale to the Device Level

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Miguel Modestino, School of Engineering, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

The world’s development and the implementation of a sustainable lifestyle depend on significant advances in the alternative energy sector. These advances will require basic scientific developments in energy generation, capture and storage, as well as large scale economic policy drivers to motivate the necessary changes to our current energy infrastructure. I have actively participated in the search for solutions to energy problems with deep fundamental and technological implications in the field of artificial photosynthesis. Artificial photosynthesis devices are complex energy conversion systems that need to absorb sunlight, create and transport charges, and electrochemically generate energy rich molecules such as hydrogen that can be used as a fuel. Given the complexity of the process, integrated systems need to be designed to efficiently carry-out all of these processes in parallel. My research has tackled all of these design aspects ranging from the materials nanostructure level to the overall device design structure, with particular emphasis on the role of hybrid polymeric materials for solar-fuel generation. Here, I will highlight research insights from the basic understanding of functional nanoparticle self-assembly in polymer membranes for solar-energy harvesting, to the structural and transport characteristics of ion-conducting polymers at inorganic interphases for electrochemical water splitting. Lastly, broader aspects on the implementation and device design of cost-effective solar-fuels technologies will be discussed.

Building on the systematic approaches applied on solar-fuel devices, my research program will focus on understanding multifunctional polymer composite systems for energy applications. Specifically, we will first design materials using basic physical models to understand the drivers for performance and potential for a particular application, as well as devise the required morphologies to achieve the desired properties. Then, we will devote the bulk of our research efforts to understanding the self-assembly aspects of model composite systems that lead to the required morphologies by using  a wide range of polymer processing techniques and structural characterization tools.  Lastly, understanding the effects of composites’ nanostructures on their properties (e.g. electrical, electrochemical and physical) will allow us to achieve optimized hybrid materials that can be implemented into devices and will also point out towards directions for improvements in their design.  Examples of functional energy systems based on hybrid nanostructured materials include electrochemical catalyst layers, supercapacitor and battery electrodes where the structure and characteristics of the electrochemical interfaces are critical for the device performance.

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