PhD - Leuven | More than two weeks ago
Make valuable chemicals out of CO2 waste and help clean up the planet.
Global warming as a result of industrial age CO2 emissions is a prime societal concern with a growing popular awareness calling for policy measures. A behavioral change is important, but technology also needs to come with solutions to reduce emissions and, hopefully, even reverse it. Indeed, with a rapidly growing world population and continuous increase in energy demand, it is understood that a lone switch to renewable energies will not suffice to keep the temperature rise well below +2oC above pre-industrial levels. In addition, carbon dioxide is not only a product of energy by combustion, but a waste product of chemical industry as well. For example, the cement industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions, with about half of that as by-product of the lime production process itself. Therefore, a technology that can convert CO2 into valuable products by electrolysis, would turn CO2 into a valuable precursor and give it economic value. At imec we are looking into concepts for simultaneous capture and conversion of CO2 directly from air or point sources such as factory chimneys to enable residential and industrial installations for local production of renewable fuels and synthesis of fine chemicals. At large scale, it will help reduce CO2 emissions and could be the technological instrument to eventually reverse the trend with "negative emissions".
The electrochemical reduction of CO2 powered by renewable energies has the potential to provide valuable carbon compounds such as CO, CH4 and formic acid as well as short-chain hydrocarbons like ethylene. Current CO2 electrolyzers are limited in efficiency and result in mixtures of various carbon species. Therefore, more research is necessary to find highly active and selective electrocatalysts for the CO2 reduction. This PhD project aims to develop a new mechanistic approach towards engineering of reaction paths using semiconducting electrocatalysts. You will show feasibility of the novel approach, establish the methodology and discover the “knobs to turn” for directing the reaction mechanism. Specifically, we will identify nano-sized semiconductor materials for high selectivity of molecules with n>4; e.g. methanol, ethanol and/or ethylene. Further, we aim to use a similar principle to extend the lifetime of the catalyst by switching off the electroreduction towards carbon deposits, thus avoiding catalyst poisoning.
Required background: Electrochemistry, chemistry, material science
Type of work: 90% experimental, 10% theoretical
Supervisor: Philippe Vereecken
Daily advisor: Nina Plankensteiner
The reference code for this position is 2021-079. Mention this reference code on your application form.