The research objective of this proposal is to test the hypothesis that a class of stable multi-functional bandgap-engineered composite oxide nanomaterials (BECONs) can be constructed with inexpensive, eco-friendly, and earth abundant elements. These BECONs will be used in photocatalysis and enable new solar-driven processes for energy generation, producing solar fuels such as hydrogen from water and methane or methanol from CO2. The integrated theoretical and experimental research involves studying a promising model system of photoactive BECONs from the pyrochlore family (A2B2O7) that drive water-splitting reactions using visible light. BECON using Bi, Ti, and Fe will be synthesized using a novel reverse micelle method. Through the collaboration, the structure-property-relationships, multi-functionality, and photocatalytic activity of these model materials will be investigated. Density functional theory studies will help interpret experimental data and drive materials design.
Several features of this proposal are unique and may offer transformative outcomes. First, one of the limits in solar energy driven processes is the ability to use the entire spectrum of light to produce photocatalysis and energy. New materials with suitable bandgaps are always being sought for this use. The PIs have already some encouraging preliminary data which supports the potential of BECONS to convert visible light and not just the ultraviolet light to energy service. In addition the use of non-exotic elements is in line with the current direction for the material search. Finally the collaborative efforts marry the predictions resulting from the modeling work with the experimental synthesis and testing work.
The educational/outreach objectives of the proposal include a new undergraduate course that integrates content from the research program to teach photoelectrochemistry concepts; a toolkit for screening photoactive materials for solar energy conversion applications for undergraduate and graduate student use; to conduct science demonstrations in local schools using speciallyprepared demonstration kits; and to coordinate and continue advising the sustainable energy forum, a popular student organization that the UNR-PI has conceived and established at University of Nevada, Reno, that focuses on awareness about alternate energy.
This PI from UNR has submitted this basic idea before with no award success, albeit with improved evaluations each time. He has made changes in response to reviewer comments, and has discussed how to improve his proposal chances with the PD. One of the responses was to add a collaborator with skills in the computational side of the project. The idea is interesting, the results could be significant, the collaboration seems sound and workable. There are a greater number of Highly Recommended than I am able to fund. With the assistance of EPSCoR funding, I am able to stretch beyond the list of must-funds and support a should-fund which is a part of the Program efforts at supporting catalytic programs in renewable energy. This proposed work will have an impact on scientific and technological aspects of solar driven processes to facilitate efficient harvesting of visible light to deliver photocatalytic solar energy assisted fuel production.