Our group combines materials science and nanotechnology approaches to develop functional nanostructures for advanced energy storage, catalysis, water purification, and biosensor applications. Our research activities involve nanomaterials design and fabrication, surface modification, coating, arrays and thin-film fabrications, engineering of nanodefects, materials characterization and device design.
Rechargeable lithium-oxygen batteries are emerging as next-generation batteries due to their high theoretical specific energy densities (up to 2−3 kWh/kg) compared to other existing rechargeable batteries. One of the grand challenges of lithium-oxygen batteries is that it suffers from sluggish kinetics reactions, leading to poor energy efficiency. Here, we focus on rational-design of electrodes that are able to lower the charging potential of the batteries (from d to f in Figure 1a) via a shorter electron pathway (Figure 1b). This key concept plays an important role in lithium-oxygen batteries.
Figure 1: (a) Full discharge-charge profile of Li-O2 battery. (b) Schematic of the proposed mechanisms.
Chemistry of Materials. 2016, 28, 5743-5752. Link
Journal of Power Sources, 2015, 294, 377-385. Link
Hydrogen generated by the electrolysis of water has become an increasingly attractive energy carrier due to its high energy density. Electrocatalysts used for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) are important and key components for water splitting. It is well known that noble metals, such as Pt, are the most efficient HER electrocatalyst due to its fast reaction kinetics and low overpotential to drive the HER reaction. However, its high cost and low natural abundance hamper its wide applications. Therefore, alternative electrocatalysts such as metal carbide materials are being explored because they are low cost, good stability, and
high catalytic activity towards HER. In addition, we also examine the doping effect of active metals into metal carbide to further enhanced the electronic properties as shown in Figure 2a-b.
Figure 2: (a) Atomistic configuration of Ni-W2C nanosheet at high hydrogen adsorption coverage. (b) Free-energy diagrams for HER of W2C and Ni-W2C high hydrogen adsorption coverage.
Small, 2016, 12, 2859–2865. Link
Small, 2015,47, 6278–6284. Link
Membrane-based technology has been demonstrated as an effective alternative to traditional separation methods (i.e. distillation and adsorption) for purifying water because of its high separation efficiency, low energy consumption, and ecofriendliness. The commercial nanofiltration (NF) membrane made of poly(ether sulfone) suffers from slow water permeance (ca. 10 L m−2 h−1 bar−1) because it partly operates at high pressure (up to 40 bar), leading to large energy consumption and subsequently high operational cost. Therefore, alternative membrane materials are required to remedy this issue. We use 2D nanosheets as elementary blocks to construct membranes which are used as a new-generation material for water purification because of their unique intrinsic structures (i.e., in-plane pores/defects and interlayer spacing) could render effective nanosieving, enabling selective transport of molecules to permeate through the nanochannels of the scaffold as shown in Figure 3a. Moreover, he can also engineer defects into 2D nanosheets to create additional channels for ultrafast solvent permeation (Figure 3b-c).
Figure 3: (a) Schematic illustration of solvent (in this case water) permeate through the 2D-based membrane (periodic pore system of the metal-organic framework) but rejecting the unwanted solutes. (b) Engineering defects into 2D nanosheets.
Journal of Membrane Science, 2019, 591, 117318. Link
Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2017, 5, 20598-20602. Link
ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2017, 9, 28079-28088. Link
Solar-Assisted Membrane Distillation
The demand for potable water has become increasingly important due to the exponentially increasing global population, which motivates tremendous efforts towards water sustainability. To this end, membrane distillation (MD), which is a thermal-driven process using a porous hydrophobic membrane, is an emerging technique. MD is promising vis-à-vis other more mainstay membrane technologies (such as reverse osmosis and nanofiltration) due to its low-pressure operation, high rejection of non-volatile solutes, and the capability to recover low-grade waste heat from the process industry. One of the key impediments to the more widespread use of MD is the energy cost in heating up and maintaining the feed temperature. This can be circumvented by the use of green energy from the sun to supply the required thermal energy, and is often employed in solar desalination to bridge the gap between fossil fuel and renewables while reducing the environmental impact. We focus on spacer materials for solar-assisted membrane distillation for water desalination (as shown in Figure 4a-c).
Figure 4: (a) Overview of the energy balance of the plasmonic MD system. (b) Thermal image of pristine NF (top) and Pt-MBT@Ag NSs/NF (bottom) immersed in pure water. (c) Recorded solar heat flux versus time over 24 h (from 0:00 to 24:00), and the corresponding MD distillate flux versus time using real seawater and the Pt-MBT@Ag NSs/NF spacer.
Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2019, 7. 10206-10211. Link
Journal of Membrane Science, 2019, 572, 171-183. Link
Colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals (NCs) have found applications in biological fluorescence labelling. NCs with tunable dual-colour and multiphoton emission could be useful for biolabeling. However, most of the NCs had a large size distribution, broad emission, low stability, and low optical quality at high doping levels (>1%). Herein, we explore the structural characteristics of heterostructure and used these water-soluble NCs for the labelling of cancerous HeLa and noncancerous Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells.