GOALI: Collaborative Research: Electrochemical CO2 Separation and Capture through Design of Carbonate-Selective Catalysts and Ionomers

  • Hickner, Michael Anthony (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


The project will explore electrochemical reactor technology capable of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. Through a research collaboration between the University of South Carolina, the Pennsylvania State University, and Proton OnSite - a Connecticut small business that is a specialist at bringing electrochemical technologies to market - the project will combine elements of reactor design, catalysis, and separations to make critical scientific and engineering advances required for commercialization of CO2 capture at the industrial scale. The project will also provide opportunities for young researchers - including both high school and college students - to learn about electrochemistry, polymer science and applications of CO2 in academic, industrial and global contexts. The combined research and educational aspects of the study will help secure our Nation's future as a leader in clean energy technologies.

The project aims to advance anion-exchange membrane (AEM) based CO2 separation reactors through: 1) realization of advanced catalysts that improve the rate of CO2 reaction and separation; 2) design of membranes that can control the chemical pathways in the cell; 3) high-performance cell design - aided by computer modeling; and 4) construction of commercial-fidelity reactors for testing under realistic environments. The research combines engineered materials, catalysts, and membranes to control the chemical state of CO2 as it is transported through the AEM. This is important because the reaction kinetics dictate the operating voltage and a combination of mass transport and thermodynamics act to control the power requirements through the anionic balance in the AEM - with hydroxide, bicarbonate and carbonate anions all being present. Bicarbonate anions are the preferred species for CO2 separation. On the catalyst side, the surface chemistry of transition metal oxide catalysts will be investigated to uncover the reaction mechanisms for direct electrocatalytic (bi)carbonate formation. On the polymer side, new alkaline ionomers will be synthesized to control the effective base dissociation constant (pKb) of the polymer at levels needed to maintain the electrocatalytically derived bicarbonate anion in its native form during transport through the reactor. The project will also simulate the behavior of such a CO2 separation reactor as an integrated component of a 500 MW coal-fired power plant, and will assess its current and future economic feasibility. Thus, the intellectual drivers of this work will encompass both the physical science of materials and electrochemical systems, as well as engineering design and economic considerations. Beyond the immediate thrusts, the research will have relevance in the materials, catalysis, and electrochemical communities as well as broader areas of carbon capture and economics of fossil energy technology.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/188/31/21


  • National Science Foundation: $275,000.00


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