(Leader: Z. Chen; Participants: C. Cabrera, E. Cuevas, L. Diaz-Vázquez, I. González-González, K. Soto).

This IRG will be working on energy storage and conversion, with special interest in the development of advanced materials for the recovery of energy from small molecules that are typically encountered in the environment such as: ammonia and urea.

This IRG has a strong collaboration with the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), Cornell Center for Materials Research, Energy Materials Center at Cornell (EMC2), all at Cornell University.

The goal is to develop new knowledge to address the long-term energy storage and conversion requirements of future energy systems, which will utilize waste materials from land fields and wetlands as energy source.


Subproject 1: Urea Microbial Fuel Cells.

UPR has successfully developed a bio-electrochemical method using urease for wastewater treatment. Urease is an enzyme that catalyzes the ureolysis reaction and has been used to remove urea.

The objective is to obtain urea/ammonia free solution that can be later treated by reverse osmosis to eliminate the rest of the components of urine and obtain water.

The bacteria P. vulgaris will produce the urease that converts the urea to ammonia, then the ammonia will be oxidized on the square wave treated platinum particles into N2 and water. We will monitor the bacterial production of ammonia continuously and electrochemically by a pH and Eh meter in order to maintain the optimal conditions for the system, in which a potential is applied to the platinum electrode to oxidize the ammonia produced by the bacteria.

This research will use microorganisms to treat wastewater at the next level; the combination of microorganism with electrocatalysts will ensure the complete oxidation of nitrogenated species that are contained in wastewater. The treated wastewater can later be either returned to the land or sent into the Assembly Wastewater Bioreactor/Energy Device.


Subproject 2: Ammonia Alkaline Fuel Cell.

The main objectives of this subproject are geared toward addressing challenges in the

  • (1) Synthesis of nanocatalyst coated membrane (CCM) that enables better catalyst utilization under real fuel cell conditions.
  • (2) Developing more stable facet selective Pt-based nanocatalysts and other novel nanocatalysts with high performance.
  • (3) Assembling more durable alkaline membranes with lower resistance.

The knowledge developed here will provide the basis for using ammonia as an affordable, sustainable, carbon-free fuel for potable power generation and water purification applications, which will have an impact on economic development, national security, and environmental health.

The main feature is to integrate fundamental electrocatalysis at nanostructured energy materials with operando XAS/XES and XRD studies.

The membrane that will be tested in our alkaline fuel cell conditions will be done in collaboration with Abruña’s Research Group (An Electrochemical Quartz Crystal Microbalance Study of a Prospective Alkaline Anion Exchange Membrane Material for Fuel Cells: Anion Exchange Dynamics and Membrane Swelling).

The collaborative approach will be based on an increased and frequent reciprocal exchange of ideas and best operational procedures to accomplish the objectives of the proposed work.