Electrochemical nanoparticle formation in ionic liquids for catalytic applications

Electrodeposition is the electrochemical formation of a metal on an electrode surface by the reduction of the corresponding metal ions from an electrolyte. By controlling the voltage or the current, it is therefore possible to produce a wide range of nanoparticles (NP) of varying shapes and sizes, each of which exhibits different reaction kinetics and reactivity in catalytic processes. The reactivity of nanoparticles offers enormous potential for technological applications in energy storage and energy conversion as well as in fuel cell technologies and in carbon dioxide capture.

Ionic liquids (ILs) are organic salts remaining liquid even under ambient temperatures. This means that electrolytes based on ionic liquids can enable deposition of far more reactive metals, such as sodium, magnesium and iron, than conventional aqueous electrolytes which opens up tremendous opportunities for the energy sector.

However, to enable the controlled formation of NPs with narrow size distributions and their subsequent use for electrocatalytic applications in ionic liquids, we need to fully understand the precise mechanism of metal atom assembly into NPs in ionic liquids at the molecular level. This represents a tremendous challenge from the theoretical chemistry point of view as it involves the establishment of computational simulation methodology that correctly captures the electrostatic and dynamic interactions of metal ions and atoms in the ionic liquid electrolyte, as well as the molecule-surface interactions between the electrode, metal NPs, and ionic liquid molecules, for which literature data is scarce.

This research project unites Dr Maurer, an expert in computational modelling of interface chemistry at the University of Warwick and Dr Pas, an expert in ionic liquid chemistry at Monash University, in close collaboration with experimental colleagues at Warwick and Monash. The teams will tackle the grand challenge of electrochemical nanocatalysis in ionic liquid-based electrolytes, by developing a combined computational modelling – experimental characterisation strategy to direct the electrochemical formation of NPs from ionic liquids for their subsequent use in catalytic applications.

Principle applicants

Dr Li Li

Dr Ekaterina Pas

Associate Professor, School of Chemistry, Monash University

Dr Reinhard Maurer

Dr Reinhard Maurer

Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Warwick

Co-applicants

Professor Douglas MacFarlane, Professor, School of Chemistry, Monash University

Professor Julie Macpherson, Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Warwick

Visiting Fellow

Professor Agilio Padua, Professor of Physical Chemistry, Department of Physical Chemistry, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon