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Discover materials made from Earth-abundant elements to enable: 1) the efficient conversion of water, electrons, and carbon dioxide to carbon-based fuels; and, 2) the efficient conversion of water to oxygen and protons.



Thin films of nickel-gallium catalyze the reduction of carbon dioxide to highly reduced products such as methane, ethane, and ethylene.1

We use a variety of methods such as solution-based growth of nanoparticles, electrodeposition, sputtering, and temperature-programmed reduction to synthesize new heterogeneous – i.e., non-molecular – catalysts.  We are looking for Earth-abundant materials that are stable under the operating conditions for solar fuels devices.  We target specific materials by looking to analogous reactions (such as hydrodesulfurization for hydrogen production) and to theoretical models and predictions.

We apply a variety of techniques to characterize the structure, phase, composition, and surface area of catalysts.  We also apply electrochemical and spectroscopic techniques to evaluate the performance and stability of catalysts.


Electrocatalytic Reduction of Water to Hydrogen Gas by Transition-Metal Phosphides


Transmission electron micrographs of (left) Ni2P nanoparticles and (center) a representative nanoparticle in high resolution showing crystal facets and planes. (center) Polarization data for Ni2P electrodes in contact with 0.5 M H2SO4, showing glassy carbon, Ti foil, and Pt for comparison.2

In collaboration with the Schaak Group at Penn State, we synthesized, characterized, and evaluated the electrocatalytic activity of a series of transition-metal phosphides.  These materials were targeted because a member of this class, specifically nickel phosphide (Ni2P), is a catalyst of the hydrodesulfurization reaction – a reaction analogous to water reduction.  Ni2P was the first in the series of transition-metal phosphides to be synthesized and evaluated.  Ni2P demonstrated water-reduction activity amongst the highest of any non-noble metal electrocatalysts that had been reported previously.

In continued collaboration, our team went on to synthesize and characterize cobalt phosphide, molybdenum phosphide, iron phosphide, tungsten phosphide.  All of these materials demonstrated electrocatalytic activity for water reduction in acid.  Since Ni–Mo can catalyze the reduction of alkaline water, a number of catalysts made from Earth-abundant elements are now available for the reduction of water to hydrogen gas under either acidic or alkaline conditions.


  1. Torelli, D. A.; Francis, S. A.; Crompton, J. C.; Javier, A.; Thompson, J. R.; Brunschwig, B. S.; Soriaga, M. P.; Lewis, N. S., Nickel–gallium-catalyzed electrochemical reduction of CO2 to highly reduced products at low overpotentials. ACS Catal. 2016, 6 (3), 2100-2104.
  2. Popczun, E. J.; McKone, J. R.; Read, C. G.; Biacchi, A. J.; Wiltrout, A. M.; Lewis, N. S.; Schaak, R. E., Nanostructured Nickel Phosphide as an Electrocatalyst for the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135 (25), 9267-9270.

by Kimberly Papadantonakis, June 2016.