Price Winner: Pablo Ayala

Chemist and PhD candidate Pablo Ayala identifies hydrogen (H2) as a green and renewable fuel with potential to replace fossil fuels and become a new widespread energy storage system. However, today’s H2 production is still largely accompanied by considerable CO2 emissions. Hence, he delves into an alternative route towards H2 generation known as photocatalysis. Through this direct process, sunlight can be used to convert water into hydrogen aided by a key component: a photocatalyst.

Since the beginning of his dissertation in the Molecular Materials Chemistry Group lead by Prof. Dr. Dominik Eder, Pablo Ayala has worked on designing and studying novel materials capable of catalyzing this challenging conversion. His main focus lies on metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) – porous and crystalline materials that have shown excellent properties as photocatalysts. In this regard, Pablo Ayala finds titanium-based MOFs particularly interesting because of their high stability and photo-responsive behavior, which promotes H2 evolution in photocatalytic water splitting. Moreover, titanium is an earth abundant metal, one of the prerequisites he considers most important for developing sustainable photocatalysts. In his most recent publication in Advanced Energy Materials he showed how fine-tuning dimentionality and defect concentrations can be key routes towards enhanced activities. Currently, he is working on the development of new Ti-MOF structures using naturally ocurring molecules on the organic part to improve on the sustainability of these materials further.

Pablo Ayala will use the Lions price for attending the International Conference on Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOF2024) in Singapore and for further visits to the group’s new collaboration partners (FUNiMAT group) at the University of Valencia, Spain, where he already got promising results after a short 1-month research visit.