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Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide for Sustainable Production of Fuels and Chemicals Through Artificial Photosynthesis

Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide for Sustainable Production of Fuels and Chemicals Through Artificial Photosynthesis

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CNH 103

Achieving a sustainable energy economy is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century


Dr. Drew Higgins (
Associate Staff Scientist, Stanford University / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, McMaster University (starting January 2019)

Electrochemical CO2 reduction (CO2R) provides a sustainable route to produce the fuels and industrially relevant chemicals that society depends upon. While these products are generally fossil fuel derived, renewable energy (i.e., wind, solar, hydro) can be coupled with CO2R to achieve a carbon-neutral artificial photosynthesis process. In particular, CO2 can be reduced to form single- and multi-carbon products, including fuels such as methane and ethanol; along with valuable chemicals, including ethylene and acetaldehyde. Despite the significant promise, the efficiency of CO2R catalysts and product selectivity remain two important challenges that must be addressed. This can be accomplished by developing an increased understanding of the underlying mechanisms of electrochemical CO2 reduction, and apply this toward the rational design catalyst materials with improved performance capabilities. This talk will cover important aspects of CO2R catalyst development, including alloying and surface structure engineering approaches to tune activity and selectivity. A discussion of the remaining challenges facing artificial photosynthesis technology deployment will be included, along with preliminary results for the integration of CO2R catalysts into practical device prototypes.


Drew Higgins completed his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo in 2015 under the supervision of Professor Zhongwei Chen. His PhD work involved the synthesis, characterization and device integration of nanostructured oxygen reduction catalysts for low temperature fuel cells. During this time, he spent just under one year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory working under the mentorship of Dr. Piotr Zelenay. In 2015, Drew started a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University in the Department of Chemical Engineering, working in Professor Thomas Jaramillo’s group. His research focused on obtaining a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms and properties governing electrochemical CO2 reduction catalysis. In 2017, he was promoted to an Associate Staff Scientist at Stanford University / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. In January 2019, Drew will begin as an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering at McMaster University where his research will focus on nanostructured CO2R catalyst and artificial photosynthesis device prototype development. More details available at (