Ajay Kashi is currently an undergraduate student studying in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology . He is an intern at the Rutgers Energy Institute for the summer of 2015, working with Professor Charles Dismukes (Chemistry & Chemical Biology Department and the Waksman Institute of Microbiology) in the Catalysis Group.
1: Please briefly describe your research. My research is on the catalyst, Ni5P4, and its industry-scalable potential to produce renewable hydrogen cheaply and efficiently by the splitting of water molecules.
As global energy consumption continues to climb, the need for a clean, sustainable, and transportable energy source has become very urgent in recent years. Fossil fuels, due to their nonrenewable supply and associated greenhouse gas emissions, are poorly suited to meet this need. Hydrogen is an effective energy carrier and its electrochemical production/consumption releases no such greenhouse gases. Hydrogen can be produced by the electrochemical splitting of water molecules in either low-efficiency alkaline electrolyzers, or in more efficient acidic electrolyzers using expensive noble metal catalysts, most notably platinum. Platinum efficiently allows the generation of large cathodic current densities for this reaction. However, replacing platinum with inexpensive, earth-abundant elements such as nickel and phosphorus would facilitate the global-scale production of clean energy. Our catalyst, Ni5P4 has been shown previously by our group to evolve hydrogen with efficiencies on part with platinum in both strong acid and base, with no detectable degradation at current densities of 10 mA/cm2, corresponding closely to the Department of Energy objective of achieving 10% photoelectric conversion.
I am currently working on two studies to advance this material to applications in industrial electrolyzers. These two studies seek to (1) find a scalable synthetic route to producing nanoparticles of this catalyst, and (2) elucidate the correlation and mechanism between crystallite size and electrochemical activity.
2: How did you come to be involved in this research? Since I first came to Rutgers as a freshman engineering student, I carried a strong interest to look for a place to research renewable energies as a way of applying my study of the physical sciences to solving real-world concerns. After interviewing with Prof. Dismukes last spring, I began my work on the hydrogen-evolving nickel phosphides through the 2014 Aresty Summer Science Program. I had learned so much last summer that I decided to continue through these past two semesters in order to delve deeper into the field of water-splitting catalysis, and was able to expand the scope of my project work with funding from the Aresty Undergraduate Fellowship.
3: Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? Ultimately, further studies will lead to a reliably scalable method of producing bulk quantities of an optimized Ni5P4 catalyst. The high efficiency and affordability of Ni5P4 would allow implementation of electrolyzers and fuel cells on a larger scale than what has currently been possible to achieve in industry. The consequence of this could be international divestment from fossil fuel, coal, and other greenhouse gas-emitting resources and an assured dependence on clean sources of hydrogen-based energy.