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Lu Group discovers design principle for catalysts to harvest energy from environmental oscillations

Lu Group discovers design principle for catalysts to harvest energy from environmental oscillations

October 6, 2023 | By UNC-Chapel Hill Chemistry Communication 

When observing macroscopic machines like thermal engines, one will notice that they always need to harness energy from non-equilibrium environments (such as temperature gradients) to sustain their function.  Historically, the effective design of these machines has been informed primarily by the universal thermodynamic laws along with more material-specific design principles.

The Lu Group has recently expanded the success of thermodynamics from the macro-level to micro-level. A natural question arises, is it possible to apply non-equilibrium stochastic thermodynamics to design efficient chemical engines at a nanoscale to harness nonequilibrium energy from the surroundings?

The theory that the Lu Group presents in the August edition of The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters (JPCL), which is featured on the cover of that volume, provides a geometric theoretical framework that sheds light on catalysis reaction networks, to harness energy from rapid environmental oscillations. Examples of environmental oscillation include oscillation in temperature, pressure, and electric fields. This theory provides two key aspects for contemplation and further development. Number one, it predicts the theoretical limit for oscillation-induced performance.  And number two, it offers practical design principles to achieve desired outcomes in oscillation-pumped chemical reaction networks.

“In the future, this work opens up the opportunity to design catalysts beyond stationary theory, where catalysts are not simply designed by lowering activation barriers as required by traditional theory,” writes Lu. “The research we presented will hopefully allow for deeper collaborations across the chemistry division spectrum and will potentially allow my experimental colleagues to develop even more impactful energy-harvesting materials going forward.”

Congratulations to Dr. Lu and his group for their incredible research success! We can’t wait to see where their research leads to next.

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