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Professor Drew Higgins, Chemical Engineering, McMaster University

Event Date: 
Monday, February 4, 2019 - 3:30pm to 4:30pm

Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide into Fuels and Chemicals: Using Thin Film Catalysts to Understand Trends in Reactivity

Electrochemical CO2 reduction (CO2R) provides a sustainable route to produce the fuels and industrially relevant chemicals that society depends upon. While these products are generally fossil fuel derived, renewable energy (i.e., wind, solar, hydro) can be coupled with CO2R to achieve a carbon-neutral artificial photosynthesis process. In particular, CO2 can be reduced to form single- and multi-carbon products, including fuels such as methane and ethanol; along with valuable chemicals, including ethylene and acetaldehyde. Despite the significant promise, the efficiency of CO2R catalysts and product selectivity remain two important challenges that must be addressed. This can be accomplished by developing an increased understanding the impact that catalyst properties (surface structure, alloying, strain effects, etc). have on the catalysis, and applying this knowledge toward the synthesis of rationally designed catalyst nanomaterials. This talk will focus on how thin films have been used as model electrocatalyst surfaces to understand trends in CO2R activity and selectivity, and a brief discussion will be provided on how these findings can be translated to address the remaining challenges facing the development of practical CO2R electrochemical technologies.

January 2019, Drew Higgins began as an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at McMaster University, where his research focuses on the development and understanding of electrocatalyst materials for sustainable electrochemical energy technologies, including fuel cells and electrolyzers. Drew completed his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo in 2015 under the supervision of Professor Zhongwei Chen. His PhD work involved the synthesis, characterization and device integration of nanostructured oxygen reduction catalysts for low temperature fuel cells. During this time, he spent just under one year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory working under the mentorship of Dr. Piotr Zelenay. In 2015, Drew started a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University in the Department of Chemical Engineering, working in Professor Thomas Jaramillo’s group. His research focused on obtaining a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms and properties governing electrochemical CO2 reduction catalysis. In 2017, he was promoted to an Associate Staff Scientist at Stanford University / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where he oversaw research activities focusing on discovering and understanding new electrocatalyst compositions and structures for a variety of important electrochemical reactions, including water oxidation, CO2 reduction, oxygen reduction and methane activation.

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