Pollution controls, fuel cells, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing all rely on catalysts to facilitate the chemical reactions that create useful products from raw material. Although not consumed in those reactions, catalysts can be limited, deactivated or otherwise destroyed in the process. Finding plentiful, durable low-cost catalytic material can create new pathways to sustainable, efficient production of energy and industrial goods.
Piezoelectricity is the ability of crystals, ceramics and other materials to generate an electric field potential difference in response to applied mechanical stress.
Working with zinc oxide nanomaterials, Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Xudong Wang and his student Matthew Starr are exploring how the piezoelectric effect can enhance catalysts and improve the catalytic ability of otherwise overlooked materials.
By straining a piezoelectric material in an aqueous solution, Wang’s team can modulate the electronic states at the surface of materials. This opens a new strategy for mechanically manipulating the electrical potential and chemistry of catalysts.
The group oscillated a piezoelectric cantilever in deionized water. The current generated by the piezo effect generated hydrogen and oxygen, demonstrating a direct conversion between mechanical energy and chemical energy.