Tulane University School of Science and Engineering
Summer MAterials Research @ Tulane (SMART)
Research Experience for Undergraduates
Below we describe sample projects offered by faculty advisors under Materials for Energy. These representative projects highlight the general interests of the participating faculty, though the specifics may be subject to change.
Materials for Energy
Mechanistic Aspects of Solar Fuel (H2) Generation
Russ Schmehl, Chemistry
The use of sunlight to drive chemical reactions that result in the production of storable fuels is regarded as one of the holy grails of chemistry. The general approach involves capturing the photons with energy high enough to be productive and use the energy to drive electron transfer reactions that generate strong oxidizing and reducing agents that, with water as the target, will result in formation of oxygen and hydrogen. There are many challenges to accomplishing this overall chemistry and the overall water splitting is addressed by studying separate systems to understand water oxidation and reduction. Our efforts are focused on developing systems for photochemical reduction/oxidation of water and examining them using pulsed laser time resolved spectroscopy in the uv-vis and infrared. The laser spectroscopic methods will allow us to identify highly reactive intermediate species formed with visible light excitation and dissect the details of competitive kinetic processes that exist.
Ultra-high Power Density Photovoltaics from 2-D Transition Metal Chalcogenides
Matthew Escarra, Physics and Engineering Physics
The vast potential for solar energy to be useful in a variety of energy generation applications has spurred research on a wide range of photovoltaic materials. Devices formed from ultrathin materials offer the potential for reduced cost, lower weight, flexible form factors, and integration into multiple formats, all with the potential to maintain reasonably high performance. Matthew Escarra’s group is developing novel PV devices formed from 2-dimensional transition metal chalcogenide materials, an early stage material set that has the potential to push the limits of ultrathin photovoltaics. The unique properties of 2-D TMCs make them especially tantalizing for use in optoelectronic applications. The Escarra group is exploring methods to produce large area 2-dimensional transition metal chalcogenides and characterizing them with technique, including electroluminescence, photoluminescence, photocurrent, photovoltage, x-ray diffraction, elemental analysis. Participants will have the opportunity to develop transition metal chalcogenide photovoltaics using chemical and physics vapor deposition; characterizing these materials; fabricating devices; and measuring the optical and electrical characteristics of these TMC devices.
Designing Alloy Catalysts for Alkane Transformations
Matt Montemore, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Developing improved catalysts could save energy in large-scale industrial processes and make clean energy technologies, such as fuel cells or biofuels, viable. Previous research has shown that effective catalysts bind to key reaction intermediates with the proper strength. However, using this principle to discover new catalysts is difficult, partly because of the huge number of materials that must be screened. The Montemore group has developed models that allow efficient screening of metal alloys for their catalytic properties. These models allow the binding strength of key intermediates to be estimated by calculating the electronic structure of a surface, which is several orders of magnitude faster than brute force computation of binding strengths. We will focus on alkane transformations including methane reforming and propane dehydrogenation, but we will also screen for other reactions as this requires no additional computational time. We will screen catalytic surfaces with small ensembles (1 to 5 atoms) of a reactive metal in a more inert metal, as this architecture allows different intermediates to reside in different local environments. After this efficient screening of a large number of materials, more careful, accurate calculations can be performed for promising candidates.