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  • richardmitnick 11:05 am on November 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Professor Xile Hu, Solar Fuels, Swiss National Latsis Prize, Swiss National Science Foundation, Synthesis of high-added-value molecules   

    From EPFL: “The key to chemical transformations” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    Nik Papageorgiou

    Professor Xile Hu, an expert in catalysis at EPFL’s Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, has been awarded the 2017 National Latsis Prize.

    The National Latsis Prize is among the most important scientific distinctions in Switzerland, and includes a monetary award of CHF 100,000. It is awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) on behalf of the International Latsis Foundation to recognize “researchers up to the age of 40 for exceptional scientific work conducted in Switzerland.”

    This is the 34th award of the Latsis National Prize, and will be presented to Professor Hu by the SNSF on 11 January 2018, during a ceremony at Bern’s Hôtel de ville.

    Professor Xile Hu is recognized “for his impressive scientific career and his excellent research on the fundamental understanding of catalysis.” Catalysis is a branch of chemistry focused on substances that accelerate reactions or transform molecules. Professor Hu has distinguished himself by his pioneering research on the production of solar fuels, as well as on the synthesis of molecules with high added value.

    “I have decided to not worry too much about the barriers between fields, as long as it works and gives interesting results,” he says. “I try to always bring something new or unpredictable into my research, but that is not necessarily obvious. In science, we want things to happen in a logical way – so when we suggest something unprecedented or not deemed to be feasible, we can look a bit crazy.”

    Official press release



    Prof. Xile HU
    Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
    BCH 3305 (Bât. BCH)
    CH-1015 Lausanne
    Tel.: +41 21 693 97 81
    E-mail: xile.hu@epfl.ch

    Swiss National Science Foundation
    Chemist Xile Hu is the winner of the National Latsis Prize for 2017. Hu, a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, was recognised for his outstanding scientific career and his original contributions to the fundamental understanding of catalysis.

    Catalysis is a field of chemistry that studies materials that can accelerate or bring about chemical transformations. Hu has distinguished himself through his pioneering work on the production of solar fuels and the synthesis of high-added-value molecules. The prize is awarded each year by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) on behalf of the International Latsis Foundation.

    Novel approach

    Hu, who was born in China and came to Switzerland in 2007, founded the Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and Catalysis at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He is known for his innovative approach, which consists of combining the concepts and methods associated with three different types of catalysis (homogeneous, heterogeneous and enzymatic), which traditionally have remained separate. This approach has led to unprecedented understanding of fundamental catalysis and enabled the discovery of new catalysts with properties superior to those of previous materials.

    “I decided not to worry too much about barriers between the types, as long as they work and give interesting results”, says Hu, a professor at the EPFL’s Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering. “I always try to introduce something new or unpredictable to my research, but that’s not necessarily obvious. Scientists like things to happen logically, so when you suggest something unfamiliar or that’s believed to be impossible, you may sound a little crazy.”

    Accordingly, the 39-year-old Hu sought to model enzymes (enzymatic catalysis) as part of his research on solar fuels (heterogeneous catalysis). “It didn’t work, but we discovered a very good, new type of catalyst”, explains Hu. Half of his research team is working on solar fuels. “We use solar energy to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, because hydrogen is an excellent source of energy”, says Hu, who received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Peking University. “We would like to use catalytic materials to store this energy in the form of chemical products.” Hu estimates that such a technology could become reality in 15 to 20 years.

    At the heart of chemistry

    Research on high-value-added molecules for chemical products is Hu’s other major area of research. “We are focusing on catalysis based on elements that are abundant on Earth, like iron, copper and nickel”, says Hu, who did his postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology. “Until now, the chemical industry has mostly been working with precious metals like platinum, but these are rare and expensive. Abundant Earth elements are cheaper and have good potential, seeing as how they have been very little studied from that vantage.” These new molecules could later find use in the pharmaceutical, food-processing or even cosmetic industries.

    Hu has amassed a remarkable number of publications for someone his age. “Scientific articles are really collaborative efforts”, he says. “I have been fortunate in finding students who are motivated and excited by the idea of investigating areas that are still relatively undiscovered.”

    “I find it fascinating to be able to create new materials and to work in a field that has an impact on both nature and the living world”, says Hu. “Catalysis is at the heart of chemistry, but it goes unnoticed because it is so much a part of everyday life. Yet today it is more important than ever, especially for dealing with the energy challenges that humanity faces.”

    Global chemist

    Xile Hu was born in Putian, in south-eastern China, on 7 August 1978. He is a professor at the Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). After receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Peking University in 2000, he left for the University of California, San Diego, where he received his master’s degree in 2002 and his PhD in 2004. He then did postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena from 2005 to 2007. That same year, he accepted a position at EPFL, where he went on to found the Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and Catalysis. He has received numerous prizes and distinctions, including the Werner Prize from the Swiss Chemical Society.

    Hu says he is “sometimes embarrassed that I don’t fit the cliché of the scientist who spends all his free time in the laboratory”. He enjoys skiing and hiking in the mountains. Hu is married to a Swiss acupuncturist, with whom he has a three-month-old daughter.

    Little noticed, but vital

    Catalysis refers to the use of a substance to accelerate chemical transformations, or to bring about transformations that would not have occurred naturally. “Nearly 90% of chemical processes rely on catalysis at some point”, says Xile Hu, professor of chemistry at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and winner of the National Latsis Prize for 2017. “We would like them to enjoy even more widespread use, because a good catalyst makes it possible to avoid needless steps, in terms of cost as well as of time and energy.” Although catalysis is mainly employed in the chemical industry, it is equally important for humans and in nature. “Plants use biological catalysts for photosynthesis, whereas humans rely on enzymatic catalysis to metabolise the oxygen that they breathe”, says Hu. Moreover, anything to do with fermentation, such as the making of beer, yogurt or bread, depends on catalysis. Finally, the best-known catalysts are those used in cars. These catalysts transform engine emissions into non-toxic components that are then released into the air.

    National Latsis Prize

    Since 1983, the National Latsis Prize has been conferred annually by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) on behalf of the International Latsis Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 1975 and based in Geneva. It is awarded for outstanding scientific work by a Switzerland-based researcher under 40. With CHF 100,000 in prize money, the National Latsis Prize is one of Switzerland’s most prestigous scientific awards. There are also four University Latsis Prizes, each worth CHF 25,000, awarded by the Universities of Geneva and St, Gallen, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL).

    The award ceremony for the 34th National Latsis Prize will be held at Berne Town Hall on 11 January 2018. Journalists can register by sending an email to: com@snf.ch.

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

  • richardmitnick 6:47 pm on March 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , New Materials Could Turn Water into the Fuel of the Future, photoanodes, Solar Fuels   

    From Caltech: “New Materials Could Turn Water into the Fuel of the Future” 

    Caltech Logo



    Robert Perkins
    (626) 395-1862

    Scientists at JCAP create new materials by spraying combinations of elements onto thin plates. Credit: Caltech

    John Gregoire tests the properties of newly created materials. Credit: Caltech

    Researchers at Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have—in just two years—nearly doubled the number of materials known to have potential for use in solar fuels.

    They did so by developing a process that promises to speed the discovery of commercially viable solar fuels that could replace coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

    Solar fuels, a dream of clean-energy research, are created using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Researchers are exploring a range of target fuels, from hydrogen gas to liquid hydrocarbons, and producing any of these fuels involves splitting water.

    Each water molecule is comprised of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms are extracted, and then can be reunited to create highly flammable hydrogen gas or combined with CO2 to create hydrocarbon fuels, creating a plentiful and renewable energy source. The problem, however, is that water molecules do not simply break down when sunlight shines on them—if they did, the oceans would not cover most of the planet. They need a little help from a solar-powered catalyst.

    To create practical solar fuels, scientists have been trying to develop low-cost and efficient materials, known as photoanodes, that are capable of splitting water using visible light as an energy source. Over the past four decades, researchers identified only 16 of these photoanode materials. Now, using a new high-throughput method of identifying new materials, a team of researchers led by Caltech’s John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton and Qimin Yan have found 12 promising new photoanodes.

    A paper about the method and the new photoanodes appears the week of March 6 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new method was developed through a partnership between the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Caltech, and Berkeley Lab’s Materials Project, using resources at the Molecular Foundry and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).

    LBL NERSC Cray XC30 Edison supercomputer

    NERSC CRAY Cori supercomputer

    “This integration of theory and experiment is a blueprint for conducting research in an increasingly interdisciplinary world,” says Gregoire, JCAP thrust coordinator for Photoelectrocatalysis and leader of the High Throughput Experimentation group. “It’s exciting to find 12 new potential photoanodes for making solar fuels, but even more so to have a new materials discovery pipeline going forward.”

    “What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” says Neaton, the director of the Molecular Foundry.

    Previous materials discovery processes relied on cumbersome testing of individual compounds to assess their potential for use in specific applications. In the new process, Gregoire and his colleagues combined computational and experimental approaches by first mining a materials database for potentially useful compounds, screening it based on the properties of the materials, and then rapidly testing the most promising candidates using high-throughput experimentation.

    In the work described in the PNAS paper, they explored 174 metal vanadates—compounds containing the elements vanadium and oxygen along with one other element from the periodic table.

    The research, Gregoire says, reveals how different choices for this third element can produce materials with different properties, and reveals how to “tune” those properties to make a better photoanode.

    “The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate,” Gregoire says.

    The study is titled Solar fuels photoanode materials discovery by integrating high-throughput theory and experiment. Other authors from Caltech include JCAP research engineers Santosh Suram, Lan Zhou, Aniketa Shinde, and Paul Newhouse. This research was funded by the DOE. JCAP is a DOE Energy Innovation Hub focused on developing a cost-effective method of turning sunlight, water, and CO2 into fuel. It is led by Caltech with Berkeley Lab as a major partner. The Materials Project is a DOE program based at Berkeley Lab that aims to remove the guesswork from materials design in a variety of applications. The Molecular Foundry and NERSC are both DOE Office of Science User Facilities located at Berkeley Lab.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
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  • richardmitnick 8:20 am on January 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Solar Fuels   

    From Science 2.0: “Calculating The Future Of Solar-fuel Refineries” 

    Science 2.0 bloc

    Science 2.0

    January 30th 2015
    News Staff

    The process of converting the sun’s energy into liquid fuels requires a sophisticated, interrelated series of choices but a solar refinery is especially tricky to map out because the designs involve newly developed or experimental technologies. This makes it difficult to develop realistic plans that are economically viable and energy efficient.

    In a paper recently published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, a team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison chemical and biological engineering Professors Christos Maravelias and George Huber outlined a tool to help engineers better gauge the overall yield, efficiency and costs associated with scaling solar-fuel production processes up into large-scale refineries.


    That’s where the new UW-Madison tool comes in. It’s a framework that focuses on accounting for general variables and big-picture milestones associated with scaling up energy technologies to the refinery level. This means it’s specifically designed to remain relevant even as solar-fuel producers and researchers experiment with new technologies and ideas for technologies that don’t yet exist.

    Renewable-energy researchers at UW-Madison have long emphasized the importance of considering energy production as a holistic process, and Maravelias says the new framework could be used by a wide range of solar energy stakeholders, from basic science researchers to business decision-makers. The tool could also play a role in wider debates about which renewable-energy technologies are most appropriate for society to pursue on a large scale.

    “The nice thing about it being general is that if a researcher develops a different technology – and there are many different ways to generate solar fuels – our framework would still be applicable, and if someone wants a little more detail, our framework can be adjusted accordingly,” Maravelias says.

    In addition to bringing clarity to the solar refinery conversation, the framework could also be adapted to help analyze and plan any number of other energy-related processes, says Jeff Herron, a postdoc in Maravelias’ group and the paper’s lead author.

    “People tend to be narrowly focused on their particular role within a bigger picture,” Herron says. “I think bringing all that together is unique to our work, and I think that’s going to be one of the biggest impacts.”

    Ph.D. student Aniruddha Upadhye and postdoc Jiyong Kim also contributed to the project. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

    See the full article here.

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