Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-06-13 14:05:38
  • Article ID: 696089

Zili Wu: Beating plants at photosynthetic step with help from catalysts

  • Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy; photographer Carlos Jones

    Chemist Zili Wu makes discoveries about catalysts using a suite of sophisticated tools, such as this adsorption microcalorimeter to probe catalytic sites.

Zili Wu of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory grew up on a farm in China’s heartland. He chose to leave it to catalyze a career in chemistry. Today Wu leads ORNL’s Surface Chemistry and Catalysis group and conducts research at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL. It turns out what he learned on the farm would later continue to inspire him and feed his accomplishments.

In the 1990s at Wuhan University, a professor captivated Wu with the idea that biochemistry was at the center of two disciplines, with a lot of interaction between the two. “That’s where a lot of interesting things happen,” Wu enthused.

Summer jobs at Wuhan gave Wu his first taste of catalysis research. Chemical reactions follow different pathways to yield diverse products, not all of which are useful. Catalysts lower the energy required for activation of select reaction pathways. Because they increase chemical yields of desired products, they save energy and reduce waste.

For his graduate studies, Wu attended Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, working with luminary chemists Qin Xin and Can Li. Wu found photocatalysis pioneer Li an especially inspiring role model. Li arrived in the lab at 8 am, left at midnight and held meetings on weekends so all members of his large group could attend and learn from each other.

Like most students in China, Wu had studied written English but had little opportunity to speak it. During graduate school, he spent a year in Spain working with English-speaking colleagues. Back at Dalian, a visiting professor, Peter Stair, came to rely on Wu’s English skills. Impressed by Wu’s chemical prowess as well, Stair offered him a postdoctoral fellowship in the catalysis center he directed at Northwestern University.

Wu earned his doctorate in 2001 from Dalian. In 2003, he left for Northwestern to work on an ultraviolet Raman spectroscopy project for chemical firm Johnson Matthey to understand catalyst deactivation.

In 2006, Wu joined ORNL and devoted himself to research to understand complex catalysts and reactions, using applied spectroscopy and well-structured nanomaterials. Much high-impact research ensued, as exemplified by a paper published in 2012 on which he was the first author. To this day it remains a top 1 percent-ranked paper in the catalysis field.

Spectroscopy connection

On a catalyst’s surface, molecules gather and chemical bonds form. The “landscape” of energies needed for various products to form is mountainous, with some slopes harder to “climb” than others. “Normally you have to climb to the mountaintop to get to an adjacent valley,” Wu said. “A catalyst is like a local guide who knows a shortcut, maybe a tunnel. It’s a much easier path to your destination. Catalysts won’t change your starting and ending points, but they change how you get there.”

Wu’s many projects aim to design ideal catalysts. His primary tool, spectroscopy, connects them all.

“Spectroscopy is one of the great tools for understanding surface chemistry,” he said. “It records what kind of bond is forming, how it forms, at what temperature, at what stage it forms, what kind of chemical intermediate it goes through, how it gets to the product stage.”

Wu monitors catalysts and their intermediates and products with operando spectroscopy—which employs optical spectroscopy (infrared and Raman), neutron and X-ray spectroscopy, in situ electron microscopy and other techniques (mass spectrometry and gas chromatography)—to make real-time measurements of catalysts working under reaction conditions in an environmental cell.

One of Wu’s projects controls the morphology of nanocatalysts that expose different crystal facets to change interactions with reactants. “With a different shape, you can expose the structure of the atoms differently,” Wu explained. “You can get different directivity or selectivity, even different electronics because of surface structure effects. You can completely change the reactivity of the atoms with the catalyst when the catalyst is shaped differently.” For example, Wu studied ceria catalysts and provided a deep understanding of why shape matters in guiding reactants to specific products.

In another study, Wu helped show inexpensive common metals have the potential to replace expensive noble metals, such as platinum and palladium, in commercial catalysts. If theory predicts a catalyst will work well, ORNL’s Sheng Dai, an expert in the precise synthesis of materials, can make it and Wu can test it. Dai made a “CCC catalyst”—an oxide compound made with copper, cobalt and ceria. Wu characterized it, and ORNL’s Todd Toops at the National Transportation Research Center performed tests that showed it usually worked better than a commercial catalyst at removing carbon monoxide, nitric oxide and hydrocarbons from automotive exhaust.

Catalyst stability is the focus of a major project of Wu’s. “We are taught in high-school chemistry class that catalysts do not change, but that’s not true,” Wu said. Catalysts undergo structural changes and even deactivate. “That’s why in an industrial process, every five or ten years you need a new catalyst—the old one no longer works well.”

A catalyst can deactivate when a chemical reacts strongly with it, blocking active sites, or through chemical poisoning. The latter is the focus of Wu’s work in the Center for Understanding and Control of Acid Gas-Induced Evolution of Materials for Energy, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center headquartered at Georgia Tech. Industrial processing removes organic sulfur from raw oil because corrosive sulfur gas, generated when the fuel is burned, inactivates an important catalyst. Wu’s in situ characterization reveals exactly how acidic gas enters the catalyst, reacts with it and changes its structure.

Finally, Wu’s projects explore the size effects of catalyst particles from nanoparticles to clusters. He said, “Now we even go to a single atom because it’s completely dispersed—you don’t have any bulk. Once you have bulk, the center can’t be utilized. If you have a single atom, everything can be used without wasting even one atom.”

Ideal catalysts

Having grown up on a farm, Wu knows a thing or two about plants. Now he wants to beat plants at a small but critical step of photosynthesis—splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen—and thinks catalysts can help.

“Understanding how to split water is a key to clean energy,” he said. “If hydrogen fuel is derived from water and burned, the hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water again. This fuel cycle is clean.”

The challenge is getting the hydrogen out of the water in the first place. Applying an electric charge can split water and make hydrogen. Sunlight can also split water if a catalyst is present to absorb its radiant energy and generate a charge.

“My dream is to efficiently convert solar energy into chemical energy,” Wu said.

Aided by enzymes, plants do exactly that, albeit inefficiently. They convert less than one percent of the solar energy they capture into chemical energy.

“To do better, we need catalysts,” Wu said. Exploring two-dimensional materials, he and colleagues at the CNMS discovered synthetic catalysts that can outperform photosynthetic enzymes at using light to accelerate a chemical reaction—called photocatalysis.

Wu will build on such advances by pooling resources in imaging, theory and supercomputing to gain insights about experimental observations. He hopes to use this knowledge to design “ideal” catalysts that are nearly 100 percent efficient at converting reactants to a selected product.

Ideal catalysts could accelerate the advent of energy-efficient production of fuels, pharmaceuticals, polymers and other commodities that would not be profitable or possible without catalysts.

DOE’s Office of Science supports Wu’s research.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit www.science.energy.gov. —by Dawn Levy

 

 

 

 

X
X
X
  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Forever Young Catalyst Reduces Diesel Emissions

Atom probe tomography reveals key explanations for stable performance over a cutting-edge diesel-exhaust catalyst's lifetime.

Sense Like a Shark: Saltwater-Submersible Films

A nickelate thin film senses electric field changes analogous to the electroreception sensing organ in sharks, which detects the bioelectric fields of prey.

Enhanced Detection of Nuclear Events, Thanks to Deep Learning

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are exploring deep learning to interpret data related to national security, the environment, the cosmos, and breast cancer. In one project a deep neural network is interpreting data about nuclear events as well as - sometimes better than - today's best automated methods or human experts.

A Bit of Quantum Logic--What Did the Atom Say to the Quantum Dot?

Let's talk! Scientists demonstrate coherent coupling between a quantum dot and a donor atom in silicon, vital for moving information inside quantum computers.

Sodium- and Potassium-based Batteries Hold Promise for Cheap Energy Storage

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found new evidence suggesting that batteries based on sodium and potassium hold promise as a potential alternative to lithium-based batteries.

ORNL researchers use AI to improve mammogram interpretation

In an effort to reduce errors in the analyses of diagnostic images by health professionals, a team of researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory has improved understanding of the cognitive processes involved in image interpretation, work that has enormous potential to improve health outcomes for the hundreds of thousands of American women affected by breast cancer each year. The ORNL-led team found that analyses of mammograms by radiologists were significantly influenced by context bias, or the radiologist's previous diagnostic experiences.

Scientists Make the First Molecular Movie of One of Nature's Most Widely Used Light Sensors

Scientists have made the first molecular movie of the instant when light hits a sensor that's widely used in nature for probing the environment and harvesting energy from light. The sensor, a form of vitamin A known as retinal, is central to a number of important light-driven processes in people, animals, microbes and algae, including human vision and some forms of photosynthesis, and the movie shows it changing shape in a trillionth of an eye blink.

Scientists isolate protein data from the tiniest of caches - single human cells

Scientists have captured the most information yet about proteins within a single human cell, giving scientists one of their clearest looks yet at the molecular happenings inside a human cell. The team detected on average more than 650 proteins in each cell - many times more than conventional techniques capture from single cells.

Researchers Generate Electricity and Hydrogen from Live Bacteria

Using a family of photosynthetic bacteria that commonly live in lakes and seas, researchers at the Technion have developed a technology to generate electricity and hydrogen energy. The researchers believe their technology can serve as a promising source of clean, environment-friendly energy that will not emit pollutants during production or use (hydrogen fuel).

Carbon Nanotube Optics Poised to Provide Pathway to Optical-Based Quantum Cryptography and Quantum Computing

Researchers at Los Alamos and partners in France and Germany are exploring the enhanced potential of carbon nanotubes as single-photon emitters for quantum information processing. Their analysis of progress in the field is published in this week's edition of the journal Nature Materials.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Department of Energy Selects 84 Scientists to Receive Early Career Research Program Funding

The Department of Energy (DOE) has selected 84 scientists from across the nation - including 30 from DOE's national laboratories and 54 from U.S. universities - to receive significant funding for research as part of the DOE Office of Science's Early Career Research Program.

Three Argonne Scientists Receive DOE Early Career Awards

Three Argonne researchers have earned the DOE's 2018 Early Career Research Program awards.

Four SLAC Scientists Awarded Prestigious DOE Early Career Research Grants

Four scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will receive Early Career Research Program awards for research that's developing new ways to study fundamental particles with machine learning and study nanoscale objects and quantum materials with powerful X-ray laser beams.

PPPL Physicists Aim to Unlock Mysteries of Fusion with Early Career Research Awards

Article describes PPPL winner of DOE Early Career Awards.

Ames Laboratory's Ke Earns DOE Early Career Research Award

Ames Laboratory scientist Liqin Ke is one of 30 scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) national laboratories to be selected for funding as part of the DOE's Early Career Research Program.

6 Berkeley Lab Researchers Receive DOE Early Career Research Awards

Six scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science to receive significant funding for research through its Early Career Research Program.

´╗┐Stony Brook's AERTC Selected for Leadership Role in Nationwide Consortium on Offshore Wind Industry

Stony Brook's Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center (AERTC) will play a key role in a nationwide research and development consortium for the offshore wind industry. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was awarded a $18.5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to establish the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced last week. New York State, through NYSERDA, has committed an additional $20.5 million to fund the consortium supporting Gov. Cuomo's initiative Reforming the Energy Vision (REV).

Professor Emily Liu Receives $1.8 Million DoE Award for Solar Power Systems Research

Li (Emily) Liu, associate professor of nuclear engineering and engineering physics in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to receive a $1.8 million award to study high-temperature molten-salt properties and corrosion mechanisms.

Vasilis Fthenakis Receives IEEE's William R. Cherry Award

UPTON, NY; Vasilis Fthenakis, a Senior Scientist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Founder and Director of the Center for Life Cycle Analysis at Columbia University, will receive the 2018 William R. Cherry Award from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

New PPPL director Steve Cowley is honored with knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II

Steven Cowley, newly named director of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) effective July 1, has received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth "for services to science and the development of nuclear fusion."


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

As Future Batteries, Hybrid Supercapacitors Are Super-Charged

A new supercapacitor could be a competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Forever Young Catalyst Reduces Diesel Emissions

Atom probe tomography reveals key explanations for stable performance over a cutting-edge diesel-exhaust catalyst's lifetime.

Sense Like a Shark: Saltwater-Submersible Films

A nickelate thin film senses electric field changes analogous to the electroreception sensing organ in sharks, which detects the bioelectric fields of prey.

A Bit of Quantum Logic--What Did the Atom Say to the Quantum Dot?

Let's talk! Scientists demonstrate coherent coupling between a quantum dot and a donor atom in silicon, vital for moving information inside quantum computers.

New Tech Uses Isomeric Beams to Study How and Where the Galaxy Makes One of Its Most Common Elements

A new measurement using a beam of aluminum-26 prepared in a metastable state allows researchers to better understand the creation of the elements in our galaxy.

Simulations of Magnetically Confined Plasmas Reveal a Self-Regulating Stabilizing Mechanism

A mysterious mechanism that prevents instabilities may be similar to the process that maintains the Earth's magnetic field.

Seeing All the Colors of the Plasma Wind

2-D velocity imaging helps fusion researchers understand the role of ion winds (aka flows) in the boundary of tokamak plasmas.

Renewable Solvents Derived From Lignin Lowers Waste in Biofuel Production

New class of solvents breaks down plant biomass into sugars for biofuels and bioproducts in a closed-loop biorefinery concept.

Scientists Studying Nuclear Spin Make a Surprising Discovery

The size of a nucleus appears to influence the direction of certain particles emitted from collisions with spinning protons.

Simulating Turbulent Bubbly Flows in Nuclear Reactors

With a better understanding of bubbly flows, researchers can improve the safety and operation of our nuclear reactors.


Spotlight

Monday June 18, 2018, 09:55 AM

Creating STEM Knowledge and Innovations to Solve Global Issues Like Water, Food, and Energy

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA)

Friday June 15, 2018, 10:00 AM

Professor Emily Liu Receives $1.8 Million DoE Award for Solar Power Systems Research

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday June 07, 2018, 03:05 PM

Celebrating 40 years of empowerment in science

Argonne National Laboratory

Monday May 07, 2018, 10:30 AM

Introducing Graduate Students Across the Globe to Photon Science

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday May 02, 2018, 04:05 PM

Students from Massachusetts and Washington Win DOE's 28th National Science Bowl(r)

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Thursday April 12, 2018, 07:05 PM

The Race for Young Scientific Minds

Argonne National Laboratory

Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago

Tuesday December 07, 2010, 05:00 PM

UC San Diego Installing 2.8 Megawatt Fuel Cell to Anchor Energy Innovation Park

University of California San Diego

Monday November 01, 2010, 12:50 PM

Rensselaer Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center Announces First Deployment of New Technology on Campus

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday September 10, 2010, 12:40 PM

Ithaca College Will Host Regional Clean Energy Summit

Ithaca College

Tuesday July 27, 2010, 10:30 AM

Texas Governor Announces $8.4 Million Award to Create Renewable Energy Institute

Texas Tech University





Showing results

0-4 Of 2215