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Well-defined nanostructured materials with controls at atomic levels for highly efficient energy conversion and chemical transformation.
The Zhang group focuses on developing well-defined nanostructured materials with controls at atomic levels for highly efficient energy conversion and chemical transformation. We are interested in a broad range of nanomaterials systems, including single-component nanoparticles (NPs), multi-component heterostructured NPs, self-assembled NPs superlattices, and other complex nanoscale architectures. We take advantage of our synthetic control over those nanomaterials' physical dimensions and structures, to understand and optimize their functions in catalysis, with the overarching objective of addressing our society's most critical challenges: sustainable and green energy future. Major directions include: Controlled Synthesis and Assembly of Well-Defined NPs: We are exploring the critical parameters applied in solution based chemical syntheses to direct NP nucleation and growth, and identifying their mechanisms in bridging atomic species and NPs with precisely controlled size, shape, composition, and crystal structure. We also exploit the inter-particle interactions that lead to the formation of binary and ternary NPs superlattices with unique collective physicochemical properties. This research requires a technical combination of chemical synthesis, in-situ electron microscopic and X-ray structural analysis, and computational modeling, to advance the understanding of NPs hierarchical control at multiple length scales. Nanocatalyst for H2/O2-H2O Electrochemical Energy Conversion: The sustainable use of energy is built on highly efficient and environmentally friendly schemes of energy storage and conversion. Energy conversion and chemical transformation between H2/O2 and H2O is specifically important for future energy applications. H2O can be electrolyzed into H2 and O2 through the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) and oxygen evolution reaction (OER), respectively. This electrochemical water splitting allows stationary electrical energy to be converted and stored in H2 as a clean fuel to power energy devices such as polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) via hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR) and oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). We seek to understand the correlation of NP's architecture to the desired catalytic properties, and develop highly active, durable and cost-effective nanoparticle catalysts for these four reactions. Nanocatalyst for CO2-to-fuel and Biomass Conversion: CO2 and biomass offer the sustainable and inexpensive carbon feedstocks for commodity chemicals and fuels, and can reduce or even eliminate our society?s dependence on non-sustainable carbon resources such as petroleum. Their efficient conversion to high-value chemicals and fuels can significantly impact the chemical industry, and advance the development of the carbon-neutral energy cycle. We integrate the efforts in nanomaterials synthesis, structural characterization, catalytic analysis, and computational modeling, to exploit the design rule and optimized approach to electrocatalysts and photocatalysts for CO2 reduction and biomass conversion with high selectivity, activity, and stability.