Nanotech-enabled chip’s accuracy could help develop greener fuel cells

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UCLA research team has developed a dramatically advanced tool for analyzing how chemicals called nanocatalysts convert chemical reactions into electricity.

The research team, led by Professor Xianfeng Duan, recently reported on their work in an article in the journal Nature Communications titled “An on-chip electrical transport spectroscopy approach for

in situ

monitoring electrochemical interfaces “. The team includes UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry postdoctoral scholars Dr. Qiyuan He and Dr. Gongming Wang (Duan Group). The lead author, Dr. Mengning Ding, is a UCLA Materials Science and Engineering postdoctoral scholar in Professor Yu Huang’s group. Prof. Huang and postdoctoral scholar Dr. Hung-Chieh Cheng are also authors on the paper.

From UCLA Newsroom (by Shaun Mason):

New spectroscopy technique provides unprecendented insights about the reactions powering fuel cells.

Nanotech-enabled chip developed at UCLA can analyze chemical reactions more accurately than large machines.

Current spectroscopy methods require large laboratory machines to measure chemical reactions, but the new technique uses a nanoelectronic chip to do the same thing while the reactions are taking place — which previously was very difficult — with better accuracy, and while gathering a completely new set of data.

Being able to analyze these reactions with increased accuracy, heightened sensitivity and greater cost-effectiveness will vastly improve scientists’ understanding of nanocatalysts, which will enable the development of new environmentally friendly fuel cells that are more efficient, more durable and less expensive to produce. Eventually, those new fuel cells could be used to power vehicles that run on hydrogen, the 10th most abundant element on Earth, and give off water as exhaust.

The work was led by Xianfeng Duan, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Yu Huang, a professor of materials science and engineering; Mengning Ding, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in materials science and engineering, was the first author of the study, which was published online in the journal Nature Communications.

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UCLA Chemisry and Biochemistry Professor Xiangfeng Duan and first author of the study, Dr. Menging Ding,
postdoctoral scholar, Prof. Yu Huang’s group, UCLA Materials Science and Engineering. (Photo by Tunde Akinloye for CNSI)

Fuel cells and hydrogen batteries are already an important source of green energy, and they are becoming more widely used as they become more powerful and efficient. But further advances will require scientists and engineers to better understand how energy technologies work and to more accurately measure the chemical reactions that make them function.

Of particular interest is gaining a better understanding of nanocatalysts, which facilitate electrochemical interactions with the materials on the devices’ surfaces at the nano level. (One nanometer is equal in distance to one-billionth of a meter, or about one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair.) “Normally, spectroscopy is used for this kind of analysis,” Duan said. “But conventional techniques are difficult for in situ, or active, electrochemical studies. On-chip electrical transport measurements enable us to directly probe the electrochemical surfaces of metallic nanocatalysts while they are in action. This has allowed us to access a completely new set of information about electrocatalysts.” Read full UCLA Newsroom article here. To learn more about Professor Duan’s research, visit the Duan Research Group webpage.