Improving Photocatalytic Systems for Solar Hydrogen Generation

Hello all! My name is Indi Stevens and I am a rising senior at the College. I am double majoring in Chemistry and Sociology. This summer I will be working in Dr. William McNamara’s inorganic chemistry lab to improve systems for harnessing solar energy and producing clean fuel.

My honors thesis will focus on optimizing a photocatalytic system for solar hydrogen generation. This system models the natural biological process of photosynthesis, using a combination of catalyst, chromophore, and electron source to reduce protons to hydrogen gas. My work on this system is two-fold, focusing on our catalysts and the electron source. I will synthesize iron-based electrocatalysts that are active for proton reduction. As earth’s most abundant transition metal, iron is relatively cheap and available, and so a system that relies on an iron-based rather than ruthenium or platinum catalyst will be more cost-effective. Additionally, I will work to incorporate natural electron donors as our electron source. Our current system relies on the addition of the chemical TEA (triethylamine) as a sacrificial electron donor, but the use of electron donors found in water samples could provide a natural source of hydrated electrons. Overall, my work on this system will be focused on improving our photocatalytic setup for artificial photosynthesis, which aims to harness the energy stored in hydrogen bonds and use hydrogen as a clean, renewable fuel source.