475819 Electrochemical Energy Transformation Processes: An Atomistic Perspective

Sunday, November 13, 2016
Continental 4 & 5 (Hilton San Francisco Union Square)
Leanne D. Chen, Department of Chemical Engineering, SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford, CA

Research Interests:

The upward trend in worldwide energy demand, combined with an increasingly urgent need to attenuate climate change, drives the search for renewable sources of energy. To this end, electrochemical energy conversion is a powerful technique that connects chemical energy (which serves as storage) to electrical energy, currency we can spend on a desired process. As an example of energy up-conversion, electrochemical CO2 reduction is attractive because it potentially decreases atmospheric CO2 concentrations while providing a carbon-neutral means to generate liquid fuels and fine chemicals. On the side of energy down-conversion and to prevent further large-scale CO2 emissions, metal-air batteries are promising for electrifying transportation.


Yet even today, these energy transformation processes generally have low efficiencies. Pinpointing the source of these inefficiencies requires a detailed understanding of the stepwise mechanisms, which is where density functional theory (DFT) has been instrumental in providing insight. As illustrated by the graphic, my PhD work has three distinct yet interconnected topics with a central theme on studying these electrochemical energy transformation processes from an atomistic perspective:

(1) Anodic dissolution in metal-air batteries where electrical energy is the output: with DFT, I was able to elucidate the fundamental limitations on total energy output in the anodic dissolution of Al and Mg in aqueous electrolytes.

(2) Electrochemical CO2 reduction where electrical energy is the input: I demonstrated how including the effects of electric field (in addition to potential alone) in the DFT model can significantly alter the free energy landscape of a catalytic process.

(3) The electrochemical interface, an indispensable component of these energy transformation processes: I have made progress in describing charged species at the outer Helmholtz plane and their implications on reaction energetics with DFT.

Teaching Interests:

Sharing knowledge and communicating effectively is very important to me as a scholar. In my graduate career, I have served as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for three different undergraduate courses: Organic Chemistry Laboratory, Organic Mechanisms Lecture, and Biochemistry. The most valuable undergraduate teaching experience for me came from the Organic Mechanisms Lecture course, for which I led two-hour discussions twice a week. Preparation was key for these sessions to engage my students in group problem-solving and fruitful discussions. I read up on the course material as thoroughly as possible to answer probing questions from my students.

I also served as a TA in a graduate course on Molecular Modeling. Here, the challenge came in the form of creating problem sets with the appropriate level of scope and difficulty for students who only had one fewer year of experience. This required some independent work on my part searching through textbooks and online resources for inspiration to problems that would be both in-line with the course content and interesting.

Proposal Experience:

Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) Program 2015

Extended Abstract: File Uploaded