Energy and Interfaces


In Liverpool we are engaged in a wide range of projects in physical chemistry with particular focus on research that underpins advances in renewable energy technologies, interfacial and nanoscale science, catalytic biomass conversion and antimicrobial surfaces. Our work ranges from fundamental understanding of physical chemical processes at the molecular and atomic level to developing new processes and products together with industrial partners.

Examples of our recent achievements related to renewable energies include electrochemical and photocatalytic approaches to sustainable fuel generation from carbon dioxide or water (Chemical Science 2020, Advanced Energy Materials 2017, Nature Energy 2020) and establishing the enabling science for new energy technologies such as sodium-oxygen batteries (Angewandte Chemie 2016, Chemical Science 2019) and solid organic proton conductors (Nature Communications 2016). High temperature NMR spectroscopy has been used to identify mobile charge carriers and elucidate diffusion mechanisms in solid oxides of relevance as fuel cell electrolytes (Chem Mater 2016), and micro-structured materials for new technologies related to heat generation, transfer, storage and release have been developed (ACS Nano 2016).

Our research on interfaces builds on our long-established competence in fundamental and applied approaches to interrogating experimentally and computationally the binding, organisation and reaction of matter at precisely defined surfaces, with atomic scale resolution. This embraces significant expertise in (i) the structure and reactivity of water (JACS 2020) and the nucleation of ice (JACS 2019, JACS 2018) at a range of different well-defined interfaces, and (ii) manifestations of chirality at interfaces, and its consequences for molecular ordering, segregation (PCCP 2017) and motion (Chemical Science 2019).

In nanoscale science, we have a comprehensive research portfolio on single-molecule metal-junctions interrogated by scanning probe microscopy (Nanoscale Horizons 2020) and by vibrational spectroscopy (Analytical Chemistry 2019). This is possible under a broad range of conditions including electrochemical control, which allows the exploitation of this experimental approach for molecular electronics (Angewandte Chemie 2020). It has recently resulted in ground-breaking advances in the direct measurement of electronic distributions in thin metal films (Science 2020). Other activities in this area focus on design and preparation, predominantly of gold nanoparticles, for analytical, diagnostic and therapeutic applications (Langmuir 2017, J. Phys. Chem. C 2016, Analytical Chemistry 2017) and as artificial membrane transporters in biological and non-biological systems (ACS Nano 2017).   

Our catalysis research has a strong focus on the synthesis of chemicals and fuels from renewable feedstocks, biomass valorisation and desulfurization (ACS Catalysis 2019, Applied Catalysis B 2019), such as the production of polyglucosides from low grade agricultural plant material (Green Chemistry 2017).  We also have specific expertise in the catalytic conversion and exploitation of biomass, assisted by energy input through sonication, microwaves, or visible light (ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2019, ChemCatChem 2016).

A more recently emerged core area of excellence is the field of antimicrobial surfaces underpinning other health related strong research themes across campus. Research highlights include the development of modular nanostructured antibacterial surfaces with both photo-switchable and sustained biocidal release (Scientific Reports 2017), the modification of mesoporous silica nanoparticles with quarternary ammonium ions for synergetic antimicrobial activity (ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2017), and nitric oxide releasing titanium surfaces for antimicrobial bone-integrating orthopaedic implants (ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2020).

We have potential projects in the following research areas:

  • Electrocatalysis for Energy Applications (Cowan, Nichols, Higgins).
  • The Physical Chemistry, Electrochemistry and Spectroscopy of New Battery Technologies (Hardwick).
  • Micro Capsules for Energy Application and Controlled Delivery (Shchukin)
  • Modern Applications of solid-state NMR Spectroscopy (Blanc)
  • Water Assembly and Behaviour at Surfaces (Hodgson)
  • Nanochemistry and Nanophysics of Organised Molecules at Surfaces (Raval)
  • Computational Modelling of Atoms and Molecules at Surfaces (Darling)
  • Molecular and Nano-Electronics (Nichols, Vezzoli, Higgins).
  • Protein Aggregation and Spectroscopy at Bio-Nano Interfaces (Arnolds)
  • Metal Nanoparticles with Applications in Analytical Chemistry, Sensing, Diagnostics and Therapy (Brust, Volk).
  • Automated Instrumental Analytical Chemistry (Myers).
  • Catalysis for Sustainable Synthesis (Kozhevnikov)
  • Catalysis and Photocatalysis for Biomass Conversion (Lopez-Sanchez)
  • Antimicrobial Surfaces and Materials (Raval)