In this Chemical Catalysis project, Frank Osterloh of the University of California at Davis is developing catalysts that can convert water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight. This technology creates a carbon-free pathway to hydrogen fuel using only sunlight as a renewable energy source. The catalysts incorporate components for light absorption, electric charge separation, and water conversion. They are synthesized from inexpensive components and they are studied with a range of techniques. This work provides new insight into how sunlight interacts with small particles and how photochemical energy is converted into fuel. The project has significant societal broader impact through contributions to clean energy technology. Dr. Osterloh also has created training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in inorganic chemistry and solar energy conversion. He is active in outreach activities that present chemical demonstrations to the community and to underrepresented student groups, and develops online materials, which are made available to educate the public about the need for sustainable energy.
The Chemical Catalysis program supports Frank Osterloh at the University of California at Davis to develop microheterogeneous photocatalyst systems that can electrolyze water under sunlight illumination without any applied external bias. The catalysts incorporate components for light absorption, charge separation, water oxidation and water reduction. They are synthesized from abundant elements using a combination of scalable chemical reactions and chemical assembly and are characterized with microscopic, optical and electrical techniques. Their water splitting function is established through irradiation tests and electrochemistry, and their charge separation properties are quantified with surface photovoltage spectroscopy. This project provides new insights into photochemical charge generation and water photoelectrolysis with doped titania-based metal oxides. New quantitative relationships between the photocatalytic properties of the materials and their particle size and surface composition are also developed, with special consideration of the particle energetics and kinetics, and the electrolyte environment. Furthermore, the project has broader impacts by providing hands-on training to graduate and undergraduate students in the synthesis, handling, and understanding of nanoscale inorganic materials and their characterization with photophysical techniques and electrochemistry. Professor Osterloh also develops new course content, laboratory experiments, chemical demonstrations, and online materials, with an emphasis of recruiting the next generation of STEM students, including underrepresented minorities, for renewable energy research.