The major theme of our research is focused on the development and structure/function relationships of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts for various chemical reactions and photoactive materials for sustainable energy source. We develop new strategies and characterization methods with excellent temporal and structural resolution to address the issue of directly correlating the photophysical properties and structures of the newly designed materials with their functions in catalysis, solar energy conversion, and molecular devices etc.
1. Solar to fuel conversion through artificial photosynthesis
While there is a well-recognized need to develop efficient photocatalysts for the production ofcarbon-neutral and sustainable fuel sources by solar energy conversion, the successful design of such catalysts requires a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms during the catalytic reaction. Despite recent progress in understanding the nature of photocatalysts, it remains a challenging task to directly link their structure with catalytic function during the catalysis event, because of the difficulty in identifying and characterizing, in real time, the multiple transient states that ultimately determine function. The Huang group efforts in this area include:
Design hybrid photocatalysts based on earth abundant materials
Fundamental understanding of charge separation and structural dynamics of the designed photocatalysts using advanced time resolved spectroscopy
In situ structural characterization of the photocatalysts under standard catalytic conditions
2. Solar to electricity conversion through photovoltaics
Direct conversion of sun light into electricity through photovoltaics is another attractive approach for solar energy conversion. A complete solar cell involves three primary energy conversion processes including 1) light harvesting by photosensitizers, 2) charge transfer from the excited photosensitizers to semiconductor nanoparticles, and 3) charge collection by the electrode. The overall efficiency of a solar cell is determined by all of these three processes. The research in our group is aimed at gaining a fundamental understanding of the mechanism of these energy conversion processes towards the development of robust and economically sustainable materials for solar to electricity conversion.
3. In situ structural characterization of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts
The goal of the research is to improve our fundamental understanding of the catalytic mechanism involved in organometallic chemistry and hydrodesulfurization process. We seek to synthesize homogeneous transition metal complexes and heterogeneous catalysts and examine their selectivity and activity as catalysts for various chemical reactions. In this work, we use real time and time resolved synchrotron based X-ray techniques to address the issue of directly correlating the structure of the catalysts with their function for catalysis. These studies will provide guidance for rational design of cutting edge catalysts with high efficiency and selectivity.