Iowa State University


   The Huang Research Group
                   Nanomaterials, Catalysis, and Renewable Energy






    Our research will address the pressing need for the understanding of heterogeneous catalysis and the rational design of catalysts with superior activity, selectivity, stability, and energy efficiency for important energy and industrial applications. The three major research directions are rational design of catalysts based on well-defined nanostructures, increasing the efficiency of catalysts with innovative approaches, and energy harvesting from renewable sources (solar, biomass, etc.).

    Two of the critical challenges facing society today involve the depletion of fossil fuels and the serious environmental problems resulting from their combustion. The understanding and development of high performance catalytic systems can effectively address these problems in two ways: (i) by reducing energy consumption through the efficient conversion of reactants to desired products, and (ii) by increasing the effectiveness methods by which energy is obtained from renewable energy sources. The general strategy is to precisely control the catalytic systems at the nanoscale. We will establish well-controlled nanostructure catalytic systems based on metal, metal oxide, semiconductor, and carbon with desired size, shape, composition, and assembly architectures. We also strive to understand the fundamentals of integrated nanostructures (e.g. strong metal-support interaction, optical excitation, electron transfer) and their effect on catalytic properties. The surfaces of these well-defined nanostructures permit active site uniformity, which is necessary for molecular level understanding of the correlation between structure and catalytic properties. Three examples of planned projects are:



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I. Enhancement of activity and selectivity of catalysts with innovative approaches

    The objective is to develop new strategies based on the strong electromagnetic field generated by photon irradiation of controlled plasmonic nanostructures to enhance the activity or selectivity of metal (i.e. Au, Ag, Cu, Pt, and Pd) catalysts. This research project combines reaction studies, in situ optical characterization of reaction intermediates and electron redistribution dynamics, as well as the precise control of catalyst systems in the nanometer regime. This new approach could provide energy-efficient ways to control the activity and selectivity in heterogeneous catalysis and reduce the energy consumption in current industrial processes.

II. Catalytic systems for selective conversion of biomass to value added chemicals


    Biomass is the only sustainable source of carbon for both energy and industrial applications. The target is to understand and develop catalytic systems, such as carbon-based materials, for efficient biomass conversion to value-added chemicals. This research direction is important because the production of high-value chemicals will become the economic driver in biomass conversion, which will not only lead to more profitable biomass operations, but also support the production of transportation fuels.


III. Biomimetic hybrid photocatalysts for overall water splitting under visible light

    This research will develop a general strategy using lipid bilayer membranes to stabilize photocatalysts for their application in overall water splitting under visible light. Utilizing these ion impermeable lipid bilayers, the proposed biomimetic protocol could dramatically increase the lifetime of those photocatalysts that are active for water splitting but are thermodynamically unstable.



    Sophisticated lab-based and synchrotron-based techniques are employed to acquire fundamental understanding of catalyst structures and catalysis processes. Major instruments include transmission electron microscopes (TEM), scanning electron microscopes (SEM), atomic force microscope (AFM), gas chromatography (GC), mass spectrometry, potentiostats, solar simulator, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), X-ray diffraction spectrometer (XRD), porosimiters, chemisorption, temperature-programmed desorption (TPD), temperature-programmed reduction/oxidation (TPR/TPO), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), UV-Vis and IR spectrometer, confocal microscopy, thermogravimetric analysis and differential scanning calorimetry (TGA/DSC), zeta potential measurements, dynamic light scattering, in-situ synchrotron-based high-pressure XPS, extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS), and Transmission X-ray Microscopy (TXM).