The preservation of our planet is the most urgent issue in the world, and the COP21 conference pushed a lot of researchers to work on technologies for the storage/conversion of CO2 into chemicals. However, since I believe that it is easier not to produce CO2 than setting-up plants to treat it, I propose an alternative breakthrough based on a versatile solar-driven strategy leading to redesign industrial processes. Facing the Haber-Bosch process for ammonia production (one of the most impactful chemical processes today), I propose the electrochemical fixation of dinitrogen into ammonia, by simply using air, water and ambient conditions. I will demonstrate an integrated device where a photovoltaic (PV) unit will power a regenerative electrocatalytic cell converting dinitrogen to ammonia (E-NRR). A newly proposed Li-mediated approach under mild conditions, derived from a interdisciplinary contamination between electrocatalysis and Li-batteries, will be the key towards a >95% N2 conversion, bypassing both the competitive hydrogen reduction reaction and the complete irreproducibility of recent E-NRR approaches attributed to N-contaminations or degradation of N-based catalysts. I will further move beyond the state-of-the-art by fabricating transparent devices, that can be integrated in greenhouses, allowing the production of ammonia and ammonium fertilizers directly in farms, bypassing the known issues related to the massive infrastructure of ammonia plants and difficulties in reaching remote communities. The proposed approach will significantly impact also the field of liquid fuels, being ammonia safer and with higher energy density than hydrogen. Achieving these goals will require multidisciplinary expertise in the field of chemical, material, process and device engineering. In my career I have demonstrated skills in similarly complex projects and in each of these challenging fields, bringing to technological and socio-economic benefits.
PErovskite Photovoltaic by PolYmers, (2017-2019) - Responsabile Scientifico
Corporate-funded and donor-funded research
In just few years, perovskite solar cells (PSCs) have made impressive advances with maximum power conversion efficiencies (PCEs) moving from 3.8% in 2009 to certified 22.1% in 2016. The PEPPY project has the overall objective of developing and validating in relevant environment at module level (TRL 4-5) a radically newclass of highly efficient and stable organic-inorganic PSCs with outstanding performances: PCEs higher than 23% at cell level in laboratory and higher than 16% at module level. The goals will be achieved by means of a holistic and coordinated experimental and computational work aimed at the identification of the most relevant material compositions, device designs and price competitive fabrication processes of technologies with sufficient stability under strongly accelerated aging conditions (outdoor sun concentrator with tracking system), environmentally viable fabrication and deployment in the present energy scenario. To this purpose, the consortium proposes new multifunctional polymers as key ingredients for sealing and hole-transporter components, together with novel carbon-based back-electrodes (derived from biosourced polymers) replacing standard gold contacts. The project activities will be carried out by a strong and well-balanced Consortium, comprising top-level partners with outstanding experience in the PSC preparation: Dyesol (UK) as the global leader in the development of industrial technologies for the fabrication and commercialization of PSC modules, and PoliMI as highly qualified collaborator in the field of materials chemistry, synthesis and engineering. The success of PEPPY is then guaranteed by the credibility of the PI, who recently published a preliminary research on PSC in the top-ranked SCIENCE journal, and by the selected PI's team in PoliTO, which owns clear and complementary skills in materials chemistry, (photo)electrochemistry and computational methods as well as LCA and business/exploitation plans.