Electrocatalysis uses electricity to convert molecules, such as water, into energy carriers or important building blocks for the chemical and fuel industries, as green H2. Even though electrocatalytic devices are already commercially available, the fundamental material and electrolyte properties that determine catalytic activity and consequently costs are not yet fully understood. For example, in the case of the cathode reaction in alkaline water electrolysers (hydrogen evolution reaction), most fundamental studies are performed using noble metal systems to reduce complexity, even though, in practice, catalysts mixed with more abundant and less costly materials are employed. This is also the case for the cathode reaction in alkaline fuel cells (oxygen reduction reaction), where we are transitioning from employing platinum to using cheaper catalysts as silver, nickel, cobalt. Fundamentally understanding these systems provides a base for moving these technologies forward.
Within the Minerva Fast-Track Fellowship, Mariana and her team will study how different aspects of the electrode-electrolyte interface impact the performance of non-noble, multicomponent, earth-abundant catalysts for reactions relevant to our society´s energy transition – as the production of green H2 in water electrolysers and the reduction of O2 in fuel cells. This will be achieved using classical electrochemistry methods and operando techniques as Surface X-Ray Diffraction, as well as the ample characterization techniques available at the Department of Interface Science.
“There are different aspects of the electrode-electrolyte interface that are often overlooked in electrocatalysis that I intend to tackle within my group. For instance, the degree of hydration of a cation may dictate its concentration near the surface, how it interacts with reactants and consequently the catalytic activity. We understand some of these cation-surface interactions for noble metals, but when it comes to multicomponent systems as Pt-Ni cathodes used in alkaline water electrolysers, we still fall behind. Fundamental systematic studies, could therefore help improving these devices. Furthermore, most interpretations related to the effect of ions or pH on electrocatalytic reactions come from classical theories. There are multiple techniques used to probe the catalyst surface under operation, but not necessarily the catalyst-electrolyte interaction. Resolving the structure of this interface on the molecular level under reaction conditions is something I would like to contribute to.” - Dr. Monteiro
Mariana Monteiro comes from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She earned her Chemical Engineering Bachelor's degree at the Federal University of São João del-Rei, Brazil and her Master's degree with honors at the Friedrich–Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. From 2017 to 2022 she was a PhD student in the group of Prof. Marc Koper at Leiden University, The Netherlands, where she obtained her degree Summa Cum Laude. Mariana first joined the Fritz Haber Institute in 2022 as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Interfacial Ionics group, within the Interface Science Department led by Prof. Dr. Beatriz Roldán Cuenya. Since January 2023 Dr. Monteiro is leading the “Electrode-electrolyte Interfaces” Minerva Fast-Track group in the same department.
The Max Planck Society's Minerva Fast-Track Program supports outstanding young female scientists giving them the opportunity of long-term career planning. The maximum three-year funding starts immediately after the dissertation or first postdoc position. In case of a positive evaluation, the scientists can apply then for a Max Planck Research Group / Minerva W2 Research Group. Minerva Fast-Track positions are awarded upon a proposal from a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society, who must declare that they are willing to act as a mentor for the candidate. The program is very competitive and positions are awarded under the aegis of the Vice President.