Katelyn Dagnall is currently an undergraduate student studying Chemical Engineering. She is an intern at the Rutgers Energy Institute for the summer of 2015, working with Professor Fuat Celik's group on research involving the production of hydrogen fuel through photocatalysis.
1: Please briefly describe your research. Photocatalytic Steam Reforming of Methane and Methanol Derived from Biomass Over Modified TiO2
The main purpose of the project is to produce hydrogen fuel in a sustainable and zero-emissions process. Hydrogen fuel is an excellent energy resource option but hydrogen only exists on Earth in combination with other materials. The current industrial method of separating it from those materials is through the steam reforming of natural gases. This process uses unrenewable fossil fuels and requires incredibly high operating temperatures of 900-1000 degrees Celsius. Our project aims to completely revolutionize this process through photocatalysis. In place of fossil fuels, our process uses methanol derived from decomposed biomass, and methane collected from anaerobic food digesters. To reduce the operating temperatures, a photocatalyst is used to drive the reaction with solar energy. The base photocatalyst used in our experiments is titanium dioxide, a stable and inexpensive semiconductor that can be optimized by supporting various materials on its surface. We gauge the effectiveness of the modified photocatalysts through band-gap analysis and determining the rate of hydrogen production. So far, we have been successful in seeing an increase of hydrogen production with copper, silver, platinum and palladium modified titanium dioxide, and we hope to increase that production even more in the future.
2: How did you come to be involved in this research? Working in energy research and development has been a long held goal of mine, and getting started was as simple as talking to the CBE undergraduate advisor, Dr. Helen Buettner. After explaining my goals to her, she directed me to my current group and I couldn't be happier with the outcome. Working in the Celik Catalysis Group has allowed me to learn a great deal about my field and to develop and improve my research skills.
3: Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? The scope of this project includes improvements on current processes, as well as proposed alternative processes aimed to entirely revolutionize the industrial energy cycle. To improve current hydrogen production, photocatalysts can be used to make methane steam reforming less energy intensive and reduce the amount of methane burned for heat. The unrenewable methane used in this process can then be replaced with methane collected from landfills or with glucose derived from biomass, making the energy cycle completely renewable and sustainable. I hope that this research will continue to support hydrogen as a viable fuel option and enable photocatalysts to be more widely utilized in reaction systems.