We need lots of new ideas for an eco-friendly energy revolution: better fuel cells, more powerful batteries, more efficient solar cells and even new water electrolysis methods for the production of hydrogen gas. All these technologies have one key thing in common - they rely on electrochemistry, new materials and cutting-edge catalysts.
This is precisely what Christoph Rameshan's work involves at the Institute of Materials Chemistry at TU Wien. He has now been awarded an ERC Starting Grant – one of the most lucrative research grants in Europe. In the next five years, he will now set up his own research group and investigate how the production and properties of catalysts can be systematically improved.
Nanoparticles on the crystal surface
"Many applications require surfaces equipped with catalytically active nanoparticles," explains Rameshan. "The nanoparticles ensure that key chemical reactions take place much more quickly or more efficiently than would otherwise be possible." There are various methods for applying these nanoparticles to a surface. However, the best way is to allow the particle to form by itself directly on the surface from the carrier material. "To do this, we apply an electrical voltage to the catalyst and then "grow" these nanoparticles from the crystal surface," explains Rameshan. "This is extremely efficient in terms of time and cost."
"We use surfaces made from perovskite, a crystal family that has great potential in catalytic processes on account of its versatility. To create exactly the right kind of nanoparticle, we control the temperature and the composition of the ambient gas. At the same time, we apply an electrical voltage to the perovskite surface," says Christoph Rameshan. With the right selection of all these parameters, we can gain control, thus far unparalleled, of the size and spatial distribution of the emerging nanoparticles. Even the way in which they are embedded in the crystal surface can be controlled - and, in turn, that all has an impact on their efficiency as catalysts.
Accurate analysis in production
"It is important for us not only to test different production variants, but also to gain a very specific understanding at a molecular level of the mechanisms that make a surface better or poorer as a catalyst," stresses Rameshan. "A variety of modern analysis methods enables us to investigate surfaces even during the production process - in fact, that is the speciality of our research group. This is the only way to precisely understand and specifically improve the correlation between the atomic structure of catalysts and their reactivity."
Linking together different research units should be an important key to success: "We are combining surface research, electrochemistry and catalytic processes," says Christoph Rameshan. "These are all closely interrelated, although there is still not enough interdisciplinary cooperation in this field. We want to change that." TU Wien provides good conditions to do just that - "Materials and Matter", one of the University's five research priorities, and the idea for the project originate from the SFB FOXSI established at TU Wien in which this interdisciplinary cooperation is already up and running. "From numerical computer simulations at quantum level to cutting-edge measuring instruments - we have many key prerequisites for our major objective right here in our own university, which of course makes things much easier," reflects Rameshan.
Christoph Rameshan is from the Tyrol. He studied chemistry at the University of Innsbruck and began focusing on catalysts in his degree dissertation. For his doctoral thesis, he worked at two different research facilities - the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin and the Institute for Physical Chemistry in Innsbruck. After being awarded his doctorate in 2011, he obtained an Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship and took up a post-doctoral position at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley (USA); in 2012, he returned to Innsbruck as a senior post-doc. In 2013, he took up a position as a university assistant at TU Wien.
The ERC Starting Grant awarded to Rameshan is one of the most prestigious and lucrative research grants awarded in Europe. The European Research Council (ERC) gives young talented scientists, who have already demonstrated their ability to deliver excellent performance, the opportunity to establish their own research groups and work independently. News of his success arrived at Christoph Rameshan's home - following the birth of his two daughters, he is currently on parental leave. He will be resuming his research work at TU Wien in October.
Dr. Christoph Rameshan
Institute of Material Chemistry
Getreidemarkt 9, 1060 Wien
Dr. Florian Aigner
Service Unit of PR and Marketing
Resselgasse 3, 1040 Vienna
Ohone: +43 1 58801 41027