Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nickel-based anodic electrocatalysts for fuel cells and water splitting
by Chen, Dayi, Ph.D., The University of Utah, 2016, 156; 10157943
Abstract (Summary)

Our world is facing an energy crisis, so people are trying to harvest and utilize energy more efficiently. One of the promising ways to harvest energy is via solar water splitting to convert solar energy to chemical energy stored in hydrogen. Another of the options to utilize energy more efficiently is to use fuel cells as power sources instead of combustion engines. Catalysts are needed to reduce the energy barriers of the reactions happening at the electrode surfaces of the water-splitting cells and fuel cells. Nickel-based catalysts happen to be important nonprecious electrocatalysts for both of the anodic reactions in alkaline media. In alcohol fuel cells, nickel-based catalysts catalyze alcohol oxidation. In water splitting cells, they catalyze water oxidation, i.e., oxygen evolution. The two reactions occur in a similar potential range when catalyzed by nickel-based catalysts. Higher output current density, lower oxidation potential, and complete substrate oxidation are preferred for the anode in the applications.

In this dissertation, the catalytic properties of nickel-based electrocatalysts in alkaline medium for fuel oxidation and oxygen evolution are explored. By changing the nickel precursor solubility, nickel complex nanoparticles with tunable sizes on electrode surfaces were synthesized. Higher methanol oxidation current density is achieved with smaller nickel complex nanoparticles. DNA aggregates were used as a polymer scaffold to load nickel ion centers and thus can oxidize methanol completely at a potential about 0.1 V lower than simple nickel electrodes, and the methanol oxidation pathway is changed. Nickel-based catalysts also have electrocatalytic activity towards a wide range of substrates. Experiments show that methanol, ethanol, glycerol and glucose can be deeply oxidized and carbon-carbon bonds can be broken during the oxidation. However, when comparing methanol oxidation reaction to oxygen evolution reaction catalyzed by current nickel-based catalysts, methanol oxidation suffers from high overpotential and catalyst poisoning by high concentration of substrates, so current nickel-based catalysts are more suitable to be used as oxygen evolution catalysts. A photoanode design that applies nickel oxides to a semiconductor that is incorporated with surface-plasmonic metal electrodes to do solar water oxidation with visible light is proposed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Minteer, Shelley D.
Commitee: Burrows, Cynthia J., Kieber-Emmons, Matthew, Magda, Jules J., Rainier, Jon D.
School: The University of Utah
Department: Chemistry
School Location: United States -- Utah
Source: DAI-B 78/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Physical chemistry, Energy
Keywords: Alcohol oxidation, Alkaline media, Electrocatalysts, Fuel cells, Nickel oxyhydroxide, Water splitting
Publication Number: 10157943
ISBN: 9781369129601
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