Abstract: Investigation of the Catalytic Activity of an Earth-abundant Metal Complex for Proton Reduction

A new generation of solar technology, water-splitting dye sensitized photoelectrochemical cells (WS-DSPECs), have been developed  in hope to address the shortcomings of photovoltaic solar cells. A typical WS-DSPEC as depicted in the figure below, harnesses solar energy at the anode which oxidizes water to oxygen and transfer the electrons to the cathode for proton reduction to form hydrogen.


Past research has discovered a class of iron, cobalt and nickel complexes are catalytically active for proton reduction reaction. However, they either are not of high activity or have a high overpotential (requires sizable energy input to drive the reaction). Many of these complexes also decompose when water is introduced into the system. My honors research project will focus on the development of a proton reduction catalyst using these earth-abundant metals. I will alter the ligand environment of the complex to maximize the catalytic activity at low overpotential. In the mean time, ligands that will induce water solubility of the complex will be used to build a catalytic system under aqueous conditions.


My end goal is to synthesize a complex that can be used as the catalyst of a heterogeneous proton reduction system in water. Such heterogeneous systems are easy to recycle and upscale, making them suitable for industrial purposes.


I would like to thank everyone who have supported me along the way to make my honors research project possible. I truly appreciate your recognition of the importance of this clean energy research.



  1. Armstrong, Fraser A., and Sally Sheard, Thomas Woolerton, and Yatendra Chaudhary. Energy Environ. Sci., 2012, 5, 7470-7490
  1. Iron Polypyridyl Complexes for Photocatalytic Hydrogen Generation. Carolyn L. Hartley, Ryan J. DiRisio, Megan E. Screen, Kathryn J. Mayer, and William R. McNamara. Inorganic Chemistry2016 55 (17), 8865-8870