"Embracing Complexity of Catalytic Structures: Metal/Metal-Oxide Heterogeneous Catalysts for Energy and Chemical Conversion" by Eranda Nikolla


Dwindling fuel resources and high levels of CO2 emissions have accelerated the need for renewable energy resources and more efficient energy conversion and storage systems. The goal of our research group is to design active, selective and stable electrocatalysts/catalysts for energy generation and storage technologies. We focus on complex, non-stoichiometric mixed metal oxides along with “inverted” metal@metal oxide architectures as potential avenues for addressing limitations with the current state-of-the-art catalytic structures for energy conversion and storage.

 Specifically, in this talk, I will discuss our work on designing non-stoichiometric mixed metal oxide electrocatalysts for electrochemical oxygen reduction and evolution reactions. These processes play an important role in energy conversion and storage technologies such as fuel cells, electrolyzers and Li-air batteries. We have utilized density functional theory (DFT) calculations to identify the factors that govern the activity of non-stoichiometric mixed metal oxide for oxygen electrocatalysis. A reverse microemulsion synthesis approach is developed to provide control over the oxide surface structure and bridge the gap between theoretical insights and experimental performance. Controlled kinetic isotopic and electrochemical studies are used to develop structure/performance relationships to identify non-stoichiometric mixed metal oxides with optimal oxygen electrocatalytic activity and stability. 

Secondly, I will discuss our efforts on designing selective catalysts using “inverted” metal@metal oxide catalytic architectures. This is showcased through some of our recent work on utilizing reducible metal oxide encapsulated noble metal catalytic materials in an “inverted” catalytic structure to promote hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of biomass-derived compounds. We show enhancement in HDO activity/selectivity induced by the encapsulation of the metal nanoparticles with an oxide film, which provides high interfacial contact between the metal and metal oxide sites, and restrictive accessible conformations of aromatics on the metal surface.


Eranda Nikolla is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Wayne State University. Her research interests lie in the development of heterogeneous catalysts and electrocatalysts for chemical conversion processes and electrochemical systems (i.e., fuel cells, electrolyzers) using a combination of experimental and theoretical techniques. Dr. Nikolla received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of Michigan in 2009 working with Prof. Suljo Linic and Prof. Johannes Schwank in the area of solid-state electrocatalysis. She conducted a two-year postdoctoral work at California Institute of Technology with Prof. Mark E. Davis prior to joining Wayne State University. At Caltech, she developed expertise in synthesis and characterization of meso/microporous materials and functionalized surfaces. Dr. Nikolla is the recipient of a number of awards including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Department of Energy CAREER Award, 2016 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award the Young Scientist Award from the International Congress on Catalysis and ACS Women Chemists Committee (WCC) Rising Stars Award for 2019.


Seminar sponsored by the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering