Conn Center for Renewable Energy Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Carbon Nanocage - Supported Metallic Catalysts for Fuel Cell Applications

MentorsDominika Ziolkowaska and Jacek Jasinski
Research Lab/LocationMaterials Characterization Facility, Conn Center, Lutz Hall 009-010
Description of Research

One of the most promising electric car technologies is the one using a fuel cell, an on-board device that converts a chemical energy stored in chemical bonds of the fuel into electricity. Of particular interests are proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) with additional applications for consumer electronics and stationary power sources. A fuel cell produces electricity through chemical reactions using catalysts. Current PEMFC technology is based on a carbon black-supported platinum catalyst but high costs and limited durability challenge such catalysts. Recently, we have developed a simple, inexpensive and highly scalable method for producing so-called carbon nanocages. This 3D nanostructured carbon materials have well-controlled porosity, high specific surface area and good electrical conductivity, which make them promising candidate materials for catalyst supports. In the proposed study, we will use carbon nanocage samples and decorate them with non-platinum metal nanoparticles and test for the catalytic performance in PEMFC-relevant reactions. Ideally, the project will involve two undergraduate students, each working 10 hours per week for 10 weeks. However, if only one student is interested in this project, the scope can be reduced, accordingly. The project will include the preparation of the precursor metal catalysts on carbon nanocage powders, in-situ X-ray diffraction studies (XRD) of metal nanoparticle formation, electron microscopy characterization of these novel catalyst samples. Furthermore, the project will involve the electrode preparation and catalytic reactivity testing. The conclusion of the project will involve the presentation and preparation of a written report. Depending on the results, a scientific publication may also be prepared. A detailed work plan is shown in the attached table.

Fuel Cell for a Car
  • D. A. Ziolkowska, J. S. D. Jangam T. Paronyan, M. Akhtar, G. Sumanasekera, J. B. Jasinski, "A simple route to the production of highly-uniform bilayer carbon nanocages”, Carbon 115, 617-624 (2017).
  • J. Jasinski, G. Sumanasekera, D. Ziolkowska, J.S.D. Jangam, V.K. Henner, B. Kumar, "Methods for Synthesizing Carbon Nanocages", PCT International Application No. PCT/US16/51730, Sept. 2016.
Minimum Student Qualifications
  • Preferred: Prior hands-on lab experience
  • Basic knowledge of General Chemistry and Materials Science
Pay Status
Timeline & Hours per Week
1Introduction to XRD/ Preparation of Me/carbon precursorsIntroduction to XRD/ Preparation of Me/carbon precursors
2in situ XRD synthesisin situ XRD synthesisIntroduction to fuel cells and oxygen reduction reaction (ORR)
3in situ XRD synthesisin situ XRD synthesisIntroduction to ORR experiment and analysis
4in situ XRD synthesisin situ XRD synthesis/ Ex situ synthesis of Me/carbonSEM characterization and ORR experiment
5Ex situ synthesis of Me/carbon samplesin situ XRD synthesis/ Ex situ synthesis of Me/carbonSEM characterization and ORR experiment
6Fuel cell and oxygen reduction reaction introduction/ ORR experimentEx situ synthesis of Me/carbon/ carbon samples and SEM characterizationORR experiment
7ORR experimentEx situ synthesis of Me/carbon/ carbon samples and SEM characterizationORR experiment
8ORR experimentSEM characterizationORR experiment
9Presentation of dataPresentation of dataORR experiment
10Report/ Article writingReport/ Article writingPresentation of data
11Report/ Article writing
Deadline of ProjectDecember 2017
If you are interested or call his office at (502) 852-6338

Durable Thin Film Solar Cells

MentorsThad Druffel
Research Lab/LocationConn Center Solar Manufacturing R&D Lab, Ernst Hall 300
Description of Research

In the past five years the perovskite solar cell has seen a dramatic increase in solar to electricity performance and attention to the durability of these devices is needed. The team at the Conn Center has produced perovskite solar cells with high efficiencies and now they want to understand how to improve the long term operation of these devices. Solar cells by design operate in extremely demanding environments with exposure to direct sunlight, extreme temperature swings and high moisture and generally are guaranteed to function for up to 30 years. There are several opportunities across the disciplines for undergraduate students to become involved with durability research at the Conn Center including 1) designing and implementing accelerated testing techniques 2) exploring new materials for durable devices and 3) developing new architectures leading to more durable devices. 

Solar Research Image
  • Lavery, B. W., S. Kumari, H. Konermann, G. L. Draper, J. Spurgeon and T. Druffel (2016). "Intense Pulsed Light Sintering of CH3NH3PbI3 Solar Cells." ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 8(13): 8419-8426. DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b10166
Minimum Student QualificationsPreferred: Mechanical Engineering major
Pay StatusUnpaid
Timeline & Hours per Week10 hours a week
Deadline of ProjectNo deadline
If you are Interested or visit his office Ernst Hall 302