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. The acid rain crisis of the 80's has been resolved by the introduction of newly developed catalyst convertors together with proper environmental policies. A similar approach is needed for the CO2 crisis, which poses an even larger potential threat to the planet. With a rapidly growing world population and continuous increase in energy demand, however, 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. Especially liquid chemicals such as methanol and ethanol, would be immediately compatible with current large volume chemical synthesis. More specifically, for industrial applications, CO2 electrolysis conversion units will need stable long-term operation (>20.000 hours) at substantial current densities (>200 mA/cm2) and independent of availability of sun or wind. For residential applications, i.e. to generate renewable "home fuels" from ambient CO2, the current densities can be somewhat lower; e.g. between 25 to 100 mA/cm2 when integrated with photovoltaic panels. 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". In this PhD you will investigate novel nanostructured electrode architectures for the efficient electroreduction of CO2 and/or water to valuable chemicals. These novel electrode architectures are of interest for both electrolyzers in liquid cells as well as for gas diffusion electrodes which capture the gasses directly from the ambient.
Required background: Chemistry, Materials and nanotechnology
Type of work: 80% experimental, 20% simulations
Supervisor: Philippe Vereecken
Daily advisor: Joachim John, Maarten Mees
The reference code for this position is 2020-081. Mention this reference code on your application form.
Chinese nationals who wish to apply for the CSC scholarship, should use the following code when applying for this topic: CSC2020-43.