IREU | Summer Projects in Singapore

U.S. undergraduate students may select from amongst the following projects offered by the National University of Singapore for the 2014 summer ACS IREU:

(NUS.1) Understanding and Developing Catalytic Materials for CO2 Electroreduction

Dr. Jason YEO

The electrochemical reduction of CO2 to useful hydrocarbon fuels such as methanol is a long-standing dream in the energy industries. This process was demonstrated by Y. Hori 25 years ago on copper. Unfortunately, it is still not industrially viable because it is inefficient, unstable and has poor product selectivity. In this project, we will establish fundamental relationships between the structure / composition of various CO2 reduction catalysts and their performances. We will synthesize catalysts that best facilitate the reduction of CO2 to useful fuels. We also want to synthesize our catalysts from earth abundant materials, so that they can be used on a wide scale.

(NUS.2) Synthesis and application molecules for fabrication of dye sensitized solar cells


Organic dyes with a donor-acceptor structure have drawn increasing attention as sensitizers in dye sensitized solar cells due to their rich photo physical properties, easy molecular tailoring and low cost production. The main challenge in this area would be to match the energy conversion efficiency of silicon (~30%) with organic materials. Organic materials have shown an efficiency of 10 – 12%, which can be improved upon designing new molecules and fabricating devices to test their efficiency.  In this project, we will design and synthesize new molecules with various donor-acceptor configurations and investigate their structure-property correlation and application in devices. The project will involve synthesis, full characterization of molecules and some device fabrication. Chemistry knowledge with some interest in organic synthesis will be required.

(NUS.3) Application of nanofibers in environmental detoxification


Access to high quality drinking water is becoming an important national security issue for many countries in the world. Industrial and agricultural developments have added significant amount of pollutants into our water supply. There are many methods to remove different types of pollutants from water. Current technologies make use of membrane filtration, which is easy to handle and can be recycled and reused. Recent development in the nanoscience and nanotechnology led to many commercial products incorporated with nanomaterials. Lack of regulation and uncontrolled disposal of waste of such products led to the introduction of nanopolutants into our environment. This project will focus on extraction of pollutant from aqueous environment. For this, nanofibers and nanomembranes from both synthetic and natural polymers will be used for the extraction of nanomaterials and dissolved organics from water. Working with senior students in my group, the new student will have opportunities to prepare nanofibers, characterize using various techniques and test them for purification.

(NUS.4) Metal-Organic Frameworks for CO2 Capture

Dr. ZHAO Dan

The large-scale anthropogenic CO2 emission has aroused world-wild concerns nowadays. Ample evidence has shown that the escalating atmospheric CO2 concentration is the reason for global warming and ocean acidification. The impact of these climate changes on our environment and society could be enormous and irreversible if prompt actions are not taken. The development of applicable carbon mitigation techniques will not only have academic interests, but also bring economical and social benefits. One of the key steps in carbon mitigation is CO2 capture from those stationary CO2 emission resources. The adsorption-based CO2 capture using pressure/temperature swing sorption technique has the advantages of lower cost and easier regeneration of the adsorbents, thus receiving a lot of attention recently. The ideal adsorbents for CO2 capture should have the properties of high adsorption capacity for CO2, high selectivity for CO2, fast sorption kinetics, strong mechanical strength, high chemical stability to impurities (water, SOx, NOx, etc.), easy regeneration, and low costs. Unfortunately no adsorbent available nowadays can meet all of the above criteria. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which represent a new frontier for material research, are coordination polymers consisting of metal ions/clusters as nodes and organic ligands as spacers. Possessing the merits of both inorganic and organic building units, MOFs can fill a niche in the search for new porous materials and have found wide applications in gas storage, adsorption-based gas/vapor separation, shape/size-selective catalysis, and as templates/precursors in the preparation of other porous materials. The study of using MOFs for CO2 capture is booming due to their high surface area (the current record holder is MOF-210, with a Langmuir surface area of 10400 m2/g), uniform yet tunable pore size/geometry, and strong interaction with CO2 via coordinatively unsaturated metal centers and/or functionalized organic ligands. However, most of the MOFs reported so far have poor hydrothermal stability, which greatly limits their application in industrial CO2 capture. A novel zirconium MOF (UiO-66) was reported in 2008. Because of the strong Zr-O bond, this MOF exhibited superior hydrothermal and chemical stability, which made it a promising candidate for industrial CO2 capture. In this project, we propose to synthesize several Zr MOFs using alkylamine-containing ligands. It is hoped that the Zr-O building units will offer good solvothermal and chemical stability in these MOFs, with alkylamine groups having strong CO2 interactions to increase both the capacity and selectivity of CO2 uptake.