1. Design and synthesis of solid-state catalysts with molecular active centers.

The core of many energy conversion technologies is the development of active and stable catalysts to boost a series of electrochemical reactions, typically including oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) for fuel cells and metal-air batteries, hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) and oxygen evolution reaction (OER) for water splitting, and CO2 reduction. Dr. Liang group focus on the design, synthesis, and characterization of efficient, durable and inexpensive alternatives to noble metal-based catalysts for these important reactions. The key concept is to develop the non-precious metal solid-state catalysts with molecular active centers. The typical catalysts are iron and/or cobalt, and nitrogen-doped carbons, i.e. carbons supported with molecular metal-Nx active sites.

2. Synthesis of biomass-derived nanostructures in large-scale and their macroscopic architectures and functionalities.
Although the nanoscience and nanotechnology have been well developed in the past two decades, it is still remain a challenge to achieve the controllable synthesis and chemical functionalization of nano-building blocks in large-scale and the desirable functionalities of macroscopic architectures. We propose a general concept of green and sustainable strategy for the synthesis of biomass-based nanofibers (e.g. cellulose, chitin, starch, and protein, etc.) and their macroscopic assemblies with high performance. The fabrication method would include “bottom-up”, i.e. self-assembly of molecules in solution, and “top-down”, i.e. direct exfoliation of cellulose and chitin. The overall goal of this project is to develop a series of environment-friendly, cheap, and high-performance macroscopic assemblies of these biomass-based nanofibers such as fibers, membranes for gas/liquid separation, ion exchange membranes for fuel cells, separator membranes for batteries, hydrogels/aerogels, and polymer composites.