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Mechanism Engineering of the Oxygen Evolution Reaction

Project description

A radically new approach could open the door to highly efficient cascading reaction pathways

The oxygen evolution reaction (OER) is a limiting step on the way to generating molecular oxygen and green hydrogen in numerous processes. It has gained considerable attention recently due to its importance to sustainable industrial processes and particularly renewable energy in metal refining, batteries and production of fuels by electrolysis of water into oxygen and hydrogen. Catalysts are fundamental to OER, and engineering more efficient catalysts is a common focus of studies seeking ways to enhance OER efficiency. The EU-funded ME4OER project will focus on engineering the reaction mechanisms of multiple steps in a reactions sequence rather than finding a better catalyst for one, a process that could enhance efficiency exponentially, and not only for OER.


I propose innovative strategies to elucidate and engineer the electrocatalytic mechanism of earth-abundant transition metal oxides with the aim of enhancing the low efficiency of the oxygen evolution reaction (OER). Mastering multi-electron reactions such as the OER is critical for the transition from dwindling fossil fuels to ecologically and economically sustainable fuels based on renewable energy. Water is the most abundant source of hydrogen bonds on earth and fuels based on these bonds have the highest energy densities, which makes water an attractive resource for sustainable fuels production. However, the production of any hydrogen-based fuel from water is currently thwarted by the low efficiency of the OER. Improved catalysts are presently designed by optimizing a single step in the reaction sequence. In contrast, I target the low efficiency of the OER by engineering multiple steps of the mechanism to (i) control the number of electron transfers before the limiting step; and (ii) enforce a reaction path close to the thermodynamic limit. Combining these two strategies increases the catalytic current of transition metal oxides at typical overpotentials by a factor of 100,000. Rational design of the mechanism on this fundamental level calls for unprecedented insight into the active state of electrocatalysts. My team will achieve this firstly by novel approaches to prepare catalytically limiting states for their elucidation by synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopy and secondly by studying transitions between these states in pioneering time-resolved experiments. Both the required breakthroughs in method development and the innovative scientific strategies are generalizable to other multi-electron reactions, which opens the door for industrial catalysts that store energy sustainably in hydrogen-based fuels on a global scale.



Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 980,00
Hahn meitner platz 1
14109 Berlin

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Berlin Berlin Berlin
Activity type
Research Organisations
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)