A portait of David Mebane

 Mebane will study carbon dioxide reduction as part of an NSF collaborative award.


One of the biggest factors hampering the growth of renewable energy is storage. Sun and wind are intermittent and dependent on geography, requiring energy storage and transportation. Batteries are a means of addressing the storage problem, but they have a low-energy density, and are relatively expensive and difficult to transport. A researcher at West Virginia University will be investigating one possible alternative that could potentially create a route to “green” hydrocarbons.

David Mebane, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will be investigating the converson of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide and oxygen at high temperatures using a solid oxide electrolysis cell. He will be joined on the project by Stephen Nonnenmann, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“Carbon dioxide reduction using high-temperature electrolysis is a potential method for renewable energy storage, which has been receiving a significant amount of attention recently,” said Mebane. “Co-reduction of carbon dioxide and water is the first—and most difficult—step in the production of hydrocarbon fuels using electricity. Cerium dioxide and similar materials have the ability to take up and give off large amounts of oxygen. This helps the reaction along, since one of the oxygen atoms in carbon dioxide can be incorporated into the solid.

“The advantage of the process for energy storage,” Mebane continued, “is the high-energy density and transportability of hydrocarbons, and the easy incorporation of these fuels into existing transportation and storage infrastructure. If carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere and the electricity used for reduction is renewable, then the process is carbon-neutral.”

The experimental aspects of the study will be managed by Nonnenmann, who will produce thin-film cerium dioxide electrochemical cells and analyze them with a scanning probe microscope that directly measures the electrical properties of the ceria surface where the reaction is taking place with high spatial resolution.

“That data will then be paired with our model, using Bayesian calibration, an advanced method for combining models with experimental data,” Mebane said. “The result will be a fully quantitative picture of the CO2 reaction on ceria, which will be useful to researchers interested in designing new and better catalysts for carbon dioxide reduction.”

The research is being funded by a three-year, $189,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.



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