Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry and Biochemistry


Yujie Sun


Steve Scheiner

Third Advisor:

Robert S. Brown


The booming worldwide demand for energy and the increasing concerns about global warming due to fossil fuel consumption have urged the development of techniques for storing and converting renewable and clean energy resources. Electrocatlytic or photoelectrocatalytic water splitting to generate green energy carrier H2 with sustainable energy input, like solar, has been regarded as an attractive strategy for carbon-neutral energy needs. However, the sluggish kinetics for both half reactions (HER and OER), high overpotentials and thermodynamic requirements, and H2 and O2 gas crossover have been regarded as the major challenges, which limit its widespread application.

On account of high efficiency and fast reaction rate, proton exchange membrane electrolyzer (PEME) has been developed as a mature technology for water splitting under acidic conditions. Nonetheless, it requires noble metals as robust and competent catalysts (like Pt for HER and IrO2 for OER), which is economically unfavorable. Owing to the thermodynamic convenience for OER and the integration of HER and OER in the same electrolyte, anion exchange membrane electrolyzer (AEME) has also been explored under alkaline conditions, utilizing first-row transition metals as bifunctional catalysts. However, for both PEME and AEME, H2 and O2 are generated simultaneously. Even though “gas impermeable” membranes are employed, the formation of H2/O2 mixture is inevitable. So one part of my research introduced a new strategy to couple HER with more thermodynamically favorable biomass-derived upgrading in alkaline solution, which requires lower energy input than overall water splitting and produces more valuable and non-gas products. However, the solubility of biomass-derived organic compounds as well as the competing reaction of water oxidation limits the catalytic current density.

Therefore, we further introduce the concept of redox mediator (RM) to divide conventional water splitting into two separate steps. This allows H2 and O2 to be produced at different times as well as in different spaces and reduces the energy input required to conduct a productive step. This strategy not only prevents H2/O2 mixing but also reduces the voltage input as the redox potential of RM+/0 will be within the HER and OER thermodynamic potentials, hence allowing water splitting to be driven by photovoltaic cells with small photovoltage.



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