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Change Agents: USU Chemists Publish Innovative Catalyst Research

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015

Bo You and faculty mentor Yujie Sun

USU postdoctoral fellow Bo You, right, and faculty mentor Yujie Sun of USU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are making significant strides in catalyst research.

Bo and Sun's research material

Bo and Sun's novel findings in electrochemistry are garnering widespread attention in high-profile academic journals.

Novel findings in electrochemistry by Utah State University chemists are garnering widespread attention in top academic publications.

Articles in two separate journals, published by USU postdoctoral fellow Bo You and faculty mentor Yujie Sun, grabbed “Top Download” and “Top 5 Most Read” status in the American Chemical Society’s Chemistry of Materials and “Top 5 Most Read” in the ACS Catalysis in November 2015.

“We’re exploring very challenging areas of oxygen reduction and hydrogen evolution that remain as bottlenecks for cost-effective development of renewable energy,” says Sun, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Our findings contribute to those frontier challenges in energy catalysis.”

You and Sun’s paper in Chemistry of Materials focuses on a cobalt-based metal-organic framework, known as a “MOF,” that would serve as a scaffold to catalyze electrolysis of water or “water splitting.” Water splitting is the chemical reaction in which water is separated into oxygen and hydrogen.

“Electrochemical water splitting with renewable energy input, such as solar or wind, is crucial for production of clean hydrogen fuel,” You says. “Yet, existing methods are prohibitively expensive.”

The paper, which includes additional authors Nan Jiang and Meili Sheng, both USU graduate students, along with Sheraz Gul and Junko Yano of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, describes the integrated advantages of the polyhedron-shaped MOF-derived catalyst, which offers a high-performance conductive and cost-effective structure for water-splitting electrocatalysis.

“This is probably the earliest example of a MOF-derived catalysis for overall water splitting,” Sun says.

The team’s second paper in ACS Catalysis, which includes authors Yano and Walter Drisdell of LBNL, describes a novel bimetal-organic framework or “bi-MOF” for the reduction of oxygen, a critical process for production of electricity from renewable sources requiring fuel cell reactions.

“We chose the bi-metal strategy, using cobalt and zinc, with a purpose,” says Sun, who is the recipient of a 2015 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities. “The interaction of these metals provides a simple and low-cost method that shows great promise for large-scale catalyst preparation.”

Sun and You say the scanning electron microscope in USU’s Microscopy Core Facility is a critical tool in their research efforts, as they explore and describe the nanoscale frameworks for electrochemical reactions.

“We’re probably among the facility’s most frequent users,” Sun says.

The team’s research is supported by the Governor’s Energy Leadership Scholars Grant and Principle Energy Issues Program of the State of Utah, as well as USU.

“Our current fossil fuel resources are finite and also a major source of pollutants,” Sun says. “Our lab’s findings contribute to global efforts toward a cleaner source of energy for growing transportation, heating and industrial needs.”

Related Links

“Splitting the Difference: USU Chemists Boost Water Catalysis Research,Utah State Today
The Sun Group, lab website of Yujie Sun, Utah State University 
USU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry 
USU College of Science 

Contact: Yujie Sun, 435-797-7608,
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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