Seminar Schedule

A Materials-Science Approach to Designer Catalysts

Dr. Jin Suntivich

Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell University

Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 @ 11:45 am - 12:45 pm

Mudd 826


Solar and wind are becoming economical, aided by their rapidly declining cost and increasing efficiencies. As renewable energy gains momentum, the use of electricity to synthesize fuels and high-value chemicals represents a critical next step for energy and materials sustainability. In this talk, I will outline the current approach for designing catalysts for these electrochemical reactions. Then, I will discuss the limitation of the current approach by presenting our test of its assumptions using high-fidelity well-defined-surface experiments. Our result supports a widely held view that intermediate stabilization can serve as a parameter for the catalyst design; however, we show that this variable alone is insufficient to describe the activity of highly active catalysts. I will discuss the implications of this result, including new insights on the mechanism of electrochemical transformations. Examples of how we can explore new phases of materials not accessible via thermochemical means as high-performance catalysts will also be discussed.  


Jin Suntivich is an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell University. Jin received his B.A. in Integrated Science and B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from Northwestern University. Afterward, Jin went to obtain his Sc.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from MIT, where his research focused on finding a structure-property relation that controls the electrochemical activity of transition metal oxides and nanoparticles for fuel cells, electrolyzers, and metal-air batteries. Jin conducted his postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. There, he worked on understanding the light-matter interaction in titanium oxides and the role of non-equilibrium structure on the surface chemistry and the carrier lifetimes. His interest is in developing rational strategies for designing new materials for energy and environmental applications.

Material Characterizations and Designs for Energy Storage and Management

Dr. Yuan Yang

Associate Professor, Columbia University

Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 @ 11:45 am - 12:45 pm

Mudd 924


High-performance energy storage is critical to a sustainable future. Electrochemical energy storage, such as batteries, is a promising solution to vehicle electrification and the utilization of renewable energy. In energy storage, fundamental characterizations and designs of materials are crucial to understanding underlying mechanisms and creating new materials with high performance. In this talk I will present two examples in characterizing and designing materials. The first one is to use an emerging stimulated Raman scattering microscopy to visualize ion transport in electrolyte and electrode-electrolyte interactions. Such studies unveil the strong correlations between ion concentration and lithium dendrite growth. They also unveil effectiveness of different methods to passivate lithium dendrite growth in lithium batteries. The second example is to design solid electrolyte to enhance both safety and energy density of batteries.


Dr. Yuan Yang is currently an associate professor of materials science in the department of applied physics and applied mathematics at Columbia University. He received his B.S. in physics at Peking University in 2007, followed by the completion of his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Stanford University in 2012. After graduation, he spent three years in the department of mechanical engineering at MIT, until 2015. Dr. Yang’s research interests include advanced energy storage and thermal energy management. He won Young Innovator Award by Nano Research in 2019. He is a Scialog fellow on Advanced Energy Storage, and won RISE award at Columbia University in 2017.

From Alcatraz to Africa: Thoughts on launching energy tech companies from labs and dorm rooms

Darren Hammell

Executive VP of Business Development, Princeton Power Systems

Visiting Fellow, Princeton University

Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 @ 11:45 am - 12:45 pm

Mudd 826


Darren will talk about experiences founding a power electronics company in the early days of advanced energy storage, including finding the first customers, developing technology for a market need, transitioning from R&D into manufacturing industrial products, and eventually deploying projects across the world including advanced batteries, solar-plus-storage systems, and renewable island microgrids.


Mr. Hammell graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a BSE in Computer Science and co-founded Princeton Power Systems in 2001, after winning 1st-place in Princeton’s business plan competition. He served as President & CEO of Princeton Power for over 15 years, pioneering energy storage, renewable microgrid, and power electronics technologies. During his tenure, he oversaw the deployment of over 1,000 projects worth over $200MM on six continents, leading the global transition to distributed microgrids based on advanced energy storage.

In 2018, Mr. Hammell was appointed to the Princeton University faculty as the Gerhard R. Andlinger Visiting Fellow at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, where he developed a new curriculum on Energy Innovation and Entrepreneurship that was a top-rated course at the University in its first offering. Darren also helped launch several startup companies licensing University technology, and co-led successful grant proposals and programs with the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

Darren was named one of Red Herring’s ‘Young Moguls’ and is a frequent invited speaker at industry events. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Einstein's Alley Technology Collaborative and the Princeton Library Friends Foundation. Darren lives in Princeton with his wife and three daughters, enjoys skiing, running, music composition, and has high-exposure to all things Frozen.

A conversation on morphology, and the goals of a “flat” secondary metal negative electrode.

Professor Dan Steingart

Stability and Adhesion of Amorphous Silica Coatings on the Platinum Surface from First Principles Calculations

Jianzhou Qu and Alexander Urban


Semi-permeable silica membranes are attractive as protective coatings for electro-catalysts, both for blocking contaminants from poisoning the catalyst and for preventing the aggregation of supported catalyst nanoparticles. Such coatings are not passive bystanders but can also affect the catalytic properties. However, to utilize the interplay of coating and catalyst, a better understanding of the coating/catalyst interface on the atomic scale is needed.
Here, we apply first principles calculations and ab initio molecular dynamics simulations to investigate how amorphous silica interacts with the surface of platinum metal electrocatalysts. Using a crystalline model interface structure, we compare different interface terminations and establish which bonds are formed between the SiO2 membrane and the Pt(111) surface in aqueous electrolytes. For the crystalline interface, we find that the nature of the bonding and the adhesion energy both depend on the applied potential and the pH value. Similarly, the actual amorphous SiO2/Pt interface is also potential and pH dependent but exhibits a distribution of bonds and local interface structures. We discuss how this dynamic nature of the interface may affect the catalytic properties of the SiO2/Pt system.
The SiO2/Pt system can be considered a simple model system for oxide-coated electrodes, and our approach can be readily extended to oxide coatings in other electrochemical devices such as batteries.

A Sound Technique for Probing Chemo-Mechanics of Lithium Metal Batteries

Wesley Chang, PhD Student Princeton University, Department of Mechanical Engineering


Development of a higher energy density rechargeable battery beyond-Li-ion necessitates the improved stability and performance of unconstrained metallic lithium. However, a commercially relevant lithium metal battery is still hindered by issues such as rapid consumption of the electrolyte and non-uniform morphology at the interface due to unconstrained growth. In-operando ultrasonic analysis provides a fast and reliable technique for interrogating physical changes within a lithium metal pouch cell. Prior work on the ultrasonic characterization technique has focused on correlation with battery state-of-health and state-of-charge for applications such as detection of Li metal plating, cell gassing, and overall failure. This work is currently being extended to analysis of Li metal and quantitative estimation of battery mechanics.

A Physics-Based Modeling Approach to Optimizing Fabrication and Understanding Capacity Fade of LixV3O8 Cathodes for Li-ion Batteries

PhD Student Karthik Mayilvahanan, Chemical Engineering

Characterization and Modeling of Electrochemically Driven Natural Convection in theZinc-Bromine System

Rob Mohr, Dan Steingart, Alan West

Columbia University Department of Chemical Engineering


Natural convection arises in many types of fluid flow where a diffusive species causes a density change to the fluid. Electrochemical reactions, particularly energy storage devices, are typically strong drivers of this flow given the combination of a large density change due to reaction and a relatively slow rate of species diffusion. Density stratification in lead-acid batteries is a well documented phenomenon, but the general effect of density driven flow is not typically investigated in many electrochemical systems where it is a surprisingly important transport mode. Experiments and models show that a minimal architecture zinc-bromine cell's performance is dominated by this natural convection effect and results in a much higher utilization than would be expected based solely on a diffusive model. Finally we show how electrolyte composition can substantially modify the properties of this flow and be used to design a system with the benefits of flow cell, but requiring no pumps or ion-exchange membrane.


In-situ Characterization of Electrochemical Electrolyte Degradation Products with Lithographically Patterned Electrode Arrays

Sophie Lee


The performance and lifetime of many beyond-lithium-ion battery chemistries depends on efficient formation of the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI). During the first charge cycles, electrolyte is reduced at the anode surface and insoluble degradation products form a passivating layer, allowing ion transport while preventing additional electrolyte degradation. The solubility of degradation products affects the efficiency of SEI formation. In particular, electrolyte degradation products are more soluble in sodium-ion systems compared to lithium. As a result, sodium-ion batteries are subject to lower columbic efficiency, faster capacity fade, and higher resistance growth than lithium-ion. Addressing this limitation requires improved understanding of degradation product solubility, including methods to measure the relative concentration of dissolved electrolyte products.

While differences in solubility have been studied through ex-situ spectroscopic techniques, in-situ detection of soluble degradation products can allow increased understanding of SEI dynamics and enable real time evaluation of the efficiency of SEI formation. 2 Interdigitated electrode arrays(IDAs) are frequently used for sensitive detection of electroactive species. These electrode arrays make use of small diffusion lengths between electrodes to allow for a collector-generator arrangement, yielding similar behavior to rotating ring-disk electrodes without the noise of rotation, risk of SEI shearing or need for bulky equipment.3 IDAs are subject to increased feedback current, also known as redox cycling, due to overlapping diffusion layers.4 This is useful in the detection of products in very low concentrations but is not desirable for accurate prediction of SEI formation efficiency.

Here, we fabricate customized designs of IDAs with a high aspect ratio of Wgen to Wcol (10-40:1) using photolithographic techniques. Using geometry to bias diffusion we achieve low feedback (1-1.1 X) while maintaining relatively high collection efficiency (25-40%). Through this work we demonstrate electrochemical monitoring of soluble products by chronoamperometric and cyclic voltammetry detection at the collector during SEI formation at the generator. Utilizing this technique, it is possible to observe the proportion of electroactive soluble degradation products formed as a function of potential and evaluate electrolyte formulations.


Sophie Lee (they/them) is a fourth-year PhD Candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Drexel University and a member of the Tang Research Lab, advised by Prof Maureen Tang. Their research focuses on interfacial phenomena in batteries, with an emphasis on SEI chemistry in sodium-ion batteries. Sophie is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and recipient of a 2018 Koerner Family Award. Sophie graduated with an S.B in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2012 and worked as a research engineer developing grid-scale energy storage technologies prior to graduate school. They have been published in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society, Journal of Physics: Energy and Electrochemistry Communications and are an inventor on two patents.


(1) Dahbi, M.; Yabuuchi, N.; Kubota, K.; Tokiwa, K.; Komaba, S. Negative Electrodes for Na-Ion Batteries. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 2014, 16 (29), 15007.
(2) Iermakova, D. I.; Dugas, R.; Palacín, M. R.; Ponrouch, A. On the Comparative Stability of Li and Na Metal Anode Interfaces in Conventional Alkyl Carbonate Electrolytes. J. Electrochem. Soc. 2015, 162 (13), A7060–A7066.
(3) Aoki, K.; Morita, M.; Niwa, O.; Tabei, H. Quantitative Analysis of Reversible Diffusion-Controlled Currents of Redox Soluble Species at Interdigitated Array Electrodes under Steady-State Conditions. J. Electroanal. Chem. 1988, 256 (2), 269–282.
(4) Odijk, M.; Olthuis, W.; Dam, V. A. T.; Van Den Berg, A. Simulation of Redox-Cycling Phenomena at Interdigitated Array (IDA) Electrodes: Amplification and Selectivity. Electroanalysis 2008, 20 (5), 463–468.

1/18/19: Prof. Byungha Shin, KAIST

1/25/19: Nick Brady/Jack Davis, Ph.D. Student at Columbia

2/15/19: Prof. Daniel Esposito, Solar Fuels Engineering Lab at Columbia

3/1/19: Jake Russell/Anna Dorfi, Ph.D. Student at Columbia

3/15/19: Alex Couzis, CCNY/Urban Electric Power

4/26/19: Jon Vardner/Steven Denny, Ph.D. Student at Columbia

5/10/19: Qian Cheng/Brian Tackett, Ph.D. Student at Columbia

9/20/19: Prof. Daniel Steingart, Co-Director of CEEC

9/27/19: Aykut Aksit, Ph.D. Student at Columbia

                  Rebecca Ciez, Princeton postdoctoral fellow

10/11/19: Dr. Nongnuch Artrith, Research Scientist at Columbia

10/25/19: Prof. Lauren Marbella, The Marbella Lab at Columbia

11/1/19: Emily Hsu, Ph.D. Student at Columbia

                  Dr. Amir Zangiabadi, Director of Electron Microscopy Labs, CNI

11/22/19: Prof. Bruce Usher, Director of Tamer Center at Columbia

12/6/19: Dr. Kathy Ayers, VP of R&D at Proton Onsite / Nel Hydrogen