Synthesizing Transition Metal Complexes for the Production of Hydrogen Gas

Over the past few decades, Earth’s average surface temperature has continued to rise.  In fact, eighteen of the nineteen warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 (NASA). Global warming has the potential to pose a serious threat to human society in the near future.  Increased temperatures will lead to longer droughts, more severe storms, lower agricultural outputs, infrastructural damage, and countless other negative impacts (Fourth National Climate Assessment).  Since climate change can largely be attributed to carbon dioxide emissions, it is imperative that we implement clean, renewable energy resources.  Hydrogen gas is one such clean fuel, producing only water, electricity, and heat when consumed in a fuel cell. Therefore, finding a cheap and efficient way to generate hydrogen gas could allow us to use more clean energy and slow the effects of climate change.

In this project, I will be working to synthesize molecules which can act as ligands that can be attached to metal cations.  The resulting complexes will be tested for their functionality as electrocatalysts, aiding in the reaction which reduces water into hydrogen gas.  If time allows, these complexes will also be tested as photocatalysts.  Should this reaction be successful, solar energy could be used to produce hydrogen gas.  The goal is to determine whether certain complexes can effectively be used to synthesize hydrogen.  My data will then be added to a growing record on complexes that act as electrocatalysts.  In terms of the bigger picture, my lab’s goal is to find out which molecules allow for the most efficient production of hydrogen so that this form of clean energy can be implemented on a large scale.  Renewable energy will be a major concern as the world’s growing population faces the harsh challenges of global warming.  I hope to do my part by finding more efficient ways to generate hydrogen gas, a clean burning fuel which could play a crucial role in powering our future.