Electricity generated from renewable sources has approached an important threshold - it is now more cost effective to install solar or wind farms than to build coal power plants. The declining cost of renewable energy presents an opportunity for our society to reinvent itself. The Smith Group designs, fabricates and characterizes solid-state materials and studies their application as electrocatalysts. Our goal is to develop processes that use electricity to directly convert waste chemicals into value-added chemicals.
Electrochemistry is unique in its ability to divide a chemical reaction into two halves and execute them in a spatially separated manner. This flexibility allows for independent optimization of catalysts, and for a mix-and-match approach to be applied as societal needs evolve. We are interested in developing electrocatalytic transformations to add value to chemicals, particularly those considered to be waste or byproducts.
Our research revolves around the design, fabrication and characterization of solid state materials. State-of-the-art fabrication and characterization facilities at the University of Waterloo enables fabrication and complete structural characterization of our solid-state materials.
The ability to design improved catalysts or new reaction paths relies on knowledge of how a catalyst operates. We take a systematic approach and analyze the behavior of catalysts before, during and after electrocatalytic operation. Reaction mechanisms developed from the sum of this information are then used to guide catalyst design and fabrication.
We spectroscopically characterize our electrochemical reaction systems under operational conditions. Recent advances in spectroelectrochemistry provide access to information regarding reaction intermediates and reaction kinetics that is otherwise unobtainable. This information is used to understand the chemistry of our reaction systems, providing guidance for catalyst development.