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Nonnenmann Studies New Process for Converting Carbon Dioxide into Renewable Products Such as Hydrocarbon Fuels

Stephen Nonnenmann

Stephen Nonnenmann

Professor Stephen Nonnenmann of our Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department has received a $265,757 grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate a high-temperature electrochemical approach for converting the carbon in carbon dioxide gas to higher value carbon-containing products such as green hydrocarbon fuels. Nonnenmann’s research could form a critical component in eventual closed carbon-cycle processes for renewable energy generation.

The title of Nonnenmann’s proposal to the NSF Division of Chemistry, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET) is “Collaborative Research: Combining Models and Experiment for Quantitative Characterization of Electrocatalytic Carbon Dioxide Reduction on Doped Ceria.”

The Abstract of Nonnenmann’s NSF proposal explains that “The project will specifically investigate the reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide on high-temperature, cerium-oxide-based electrodes utilizing a combination of experimental techniques, theoretical models, and statistical methods to distinguish between various reaction mechanisms that have been proposed but remain unverified. The resulting understanding will provide guidance for designing solid oxide electrodes with improved efficiency and durability.”

The NSF abstract concludes that models generated and conclusions drawn during the course of this project will be useful for further development of high-temperature, mixed, ionic, electronic-conducting catalysts.

Nonnenmann leads the experimental aspect of the project, which pairs his group’s innovative high-temperature, in situ, scanning-probe-microscopy approaches to directly measure variations in surface potential exhibited by ceria surfaces undergoing electrolysis reactions in real time.

These direct experimental results feed large experimental datasets and complex models that are coupled by Bayesian (BMA) calibration studies by collaborator Professor David Mebane of the Mechanical Engineering Department at West Virginia University, leading to refined estimates of model parameters (with uncertainty quantification), along with assessments of the model fitness in light of the data. BMA also affords the opportunity to incorporate existing measurements or calculations (including quantum calculations) of key parameters in the analysis.

Nonnenmann is the Principal Investigator in the MIE department’s Nanoscale Interfaces, Transport, and Energy laboratory, which manipulates hetero stimuli-response materials phenomena using ordered nanomaterials design and direct, in situ, local probes under extreme environmental perturbation. He contends that this combined experimental/computational approach will lead to clearer solid state catalyst designs.

As Nonnenmann says, “The ability for us to feed catalytic modeling approaches with experimentally verified parameters obtained under actual operating conditions should really disrupt typical empirical approaches and inform solid oxide catalyst design for future energy applications.”

Before coming to UMass Amherst, Nonnenmann was a Nano/Bio Interface Center Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. (October 2017)