Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemical Engineering


Wenzhen Li


In my Ph.D research, a wet chemistry-based organic solution phase reduction method was developed, and was successfully applied in the preparation of a series of advanced electro-catalysts, including 0-dimensional (0-D) Pt, Pd, Au, and Pd-Ni nanoparticles (NPs), 1-D Pt-Fe nanowires (NWs) and 2-D Pd-Fe nanoleaves (NLs), with controlled size, shape, and morphology. These nanostructured catalysts have demonstrated unique electro-catalytic functions towards electricity production and biorenewable alcohol conversion.

The molecular oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) is a long-standing scientific issue for fuel cells due to its sluggish kinetics and the poor catalyst durability. The activity and durability of an electro-catalyst is strongly related with its composition and structure. Based on this point, Pt-Fe NWs with a diameter of 2 - 3 nm were accurately prepared. They have demonstrated a high durability in sulfuric acid due to its 1-D structure, as well as a high ORR activity attributed to its tuned electronic structure. By substituting Pt with Pd using a similar synthesis route, Pd-Fe NLs were prepared and demonstrated a higher ORR activity than Pt and Pd NPs catalysts in the alkaline electrolyte.

Recently, biomass-derived alcohols have attracted enormous attention as promising fuels (to replace H2) for low-temperature fuel cells. From this point of view, Pd-Ni NPs were prepared and demonstrated a high electro-catalytic activity towards ethanol oxidation. Comparing to ethanol, the biodiesel waste glycerol is more promising due to its low price and high reactivity. Glycerol (and crude glycerol) was successfully applied as the fuel in an Au-anode anion-exchange membrane fuel cell (AEMFC). By replacing Au with a more active Pt catalyst, simultaneous generation of both high power-density electricity and value-added chemicals (glycerate, tartronate, and mesoxalate) from glycerol was achieved in an AEMFC.

To investigate the production of valuable chemicals from glycerol electro-oxidation, two anion-exchange membrane electro-catalytic reactors were designed. The research shows that the electro-oxidation product distribution is strongly dependent on the anode applied potential. Reaction pathways for the electro-oxidation of glycerol on Au/C catalyst have been elucidated: continuous oxidation of OH groups (to produce tartronate and mesoxalate) is predominant at lower potentials, while C-C cleavage (to produce glycolate) is the dominant reaction path at higher potentials.