This is part of a post that was originally featured on JHTV’s website and was written by Nancy Rome. 

Two Johns Hopkins research teams have received technology development grants totaling approximately $200,000 through the Louis B. Thalheimer Fund for Translational Research.

Finalists pitched their proposals virtually in late May to an outside panel of independent researchers and investors, innovation executives and venture investors. Established through a generous $5.4 million gift from businessman and philanthropist Louis B. Thalheimer, the fund provides seed funding for vital proof-of-concept and validation studies of Johns Hopkins technologies.

Since 2016, the Thalheimer Fund has awarded more than $1.7 million to 20 projects at Johns Hopkins. Grants range from $25,000 to $100,000, and all recipients have formally reported their inventions to JHTV. Previous Thalheimer winners are developing a faster and more accurate way to diagnose epilepsy; an oral therapy for patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease; and a longer-lasting treatment for wrinkles and migraines, among other technologies.

Shoji Hall

One of the selected teams is led by Shoji Hall, an assistant professor with the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and an associate researcher of the Ralph O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI). See below for more information about Hall’s pitch.

Title: High-Performance Electrochemical Reduction of CO2 to CO By Electrodeposited CuZn4

Description: The Hall group is committed to enhancing the field of electrocatalysis by studying electrified solid-solution interfaces. The team uses ordered intermetallic materials, known for their distinct compositions and long-range atomic-scale ordering, to gain insight into electrocatalyst structure and function. Intermetallics stand as an unparalleled platform for an in-depth examination of material structure and functionality, differentiating them from more typical material systems, which are poorly defined. Synthesizing intermetallic nanomaterials is challenging. To address this, the Hall Group is developing methods to produce nanostructured, ordered,= intermetallic compounds under ambient conditions. Concurrently, it is engaged in understanding the role of water in modulating proton transport and how the interfacial water structure influences electrochemical reactivity.

Hall’s team has achieved a significant breakthrough in sustainable chemistry with the development of ordered intermetallic CuZn(a copper/zinc compound), a highly efficient and cost-effective catalyst that enables the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable carbon monoxide (CO) using renewable electricity as the energy source.

This innovative process takes place at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, simplifies the production, and eliminates the need for expensive temperature and precious metal catalysts such as silver (Ag). To catalyze the chemical reaction, CO2 is passed through a gas diffusion electrode made of a porous carbon paper, allowing the gas to interact with the CuZn4-electrolyte interface. When a voltage below the reduction potential of CO2 is applied to the catalyst, the CO2 is converted to CO gas through reduction.

This breakthrough has profound implications for the future of sustainable manufacturing and offers a promising path towards a more sustainable and carbon-neutral future. The unique advantages of the process are:

CuZn4 catalysts can be tailored to have high selectivity for the electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO. The unoptimized system can achieve similar metrics for CO selectivity, compared to Ag-based systems that are currently being tested in pilot plants. The system offers the potential for greater cost-effectiveness (because of its lower price for raw materials) and high-energy efficiency, with comparable or even better selectivity to CO.

The CuZn4 catalyst is manufactured using electrodeposition, which allows for electrode areas ranging from a few square centimeters to several square meters to be accessed. The scalability of our process is due to the ease of producing the electrodeposited catalysts. This makes the CuZn4 catalyst an attractive option for industrial-scale CO2 reduction to CO, as it can be easily scaled up to match the needs of the industrial processes.