The biggest challenge in chemistry today is creating tailor-made catalysts and a group of young chemistry researchers has won a competitive grant of NIS 10 million from the Israel Science Foundation to create a catalyst that will transform CO2 into liquid fuel.
Often, grants for such consortia are won by big name researchers and their students. In this case, a team of young researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Tel Aviv University put together a proposal based on their synergy as colleagues.
“There is no single leader, everyone works equally on what they are best at," says Prof. Maya Bar-Sadan of BGU's Department of Chemistry. Bar-Sadan joined BGU as part of the ICORE (Israeli Centers of Research Excellence) program six years ago. She is the most veteran of the seven researchers who won the grant. Some of her colleagues from the new grant are those she met through the ICORE and some she knew from her doctorate.
“We are more like a kibbutz," she laughs. “There is no jockeying for position but rather a joint desire to succeed."
“The Department of Chemistry at BGU has a long history of encouraging its members to strive for excellency and gave us the confidence to apply for the grant," she says.
Prof. Maya Bar-Sadan
In addition to Bar-Sadan, the grant-winning group includes Prof. Lilac Amirav (Technion), Dr. Oswaldo Diéguez Lopez (TAU), Dr. Ariel Ismach (TAU), Dr. Brian e. Rosen (TAU), Dr. Michal Leskes (WIS) and Dr. Idan Hod (BGU).
While US universities have recently created whole departments focused on 2D materials, Bar-Sadan says some of the pioneering work has been done in Israel over the last 30 years. “Over the last 30 years, Israel became known as center for 2D materials, and there is an active community that studies their various properties. In the last 10 years, there have been some amazing breakthroughs enabling us to build a catalyst from the ground up, and this also has implications regarding the work we do here in Israel, in the 2D materials field," she explains.
It is a three-stage process to create a new catalyst: Planning the construction, creating the materials and confirming their structure by characterizing the position of the atoms inside the catalysts. The group will focus on designing and producing new catalysts to transform CO2 into liquid fuels, to do two tasks: consume the harmful CO2 and produce a liquid fuel from it that will replace fossil fuels.
In addition to the cutting-edge science, Bar-Sadan feels a special chemistry between the group members that she attributes to their success. “Three out of seven of us are women, but that was not intentional. However, there have been great efforts in recent years to encourage women to succeed in the field of chemistry."
Bar-Sadan and her colleagues have eagerly set to work. A worthy quest undertaken with noble and friendly companions – what could be better?
A scanning electron microscopy image of the catalyst nanoparticles. The high yield of similar nanostructures shaped as roses (which we call nanoflowers) is prospective for applications. Each of the nanoflowers is about 200 nanometers in diameter.
The atomic-scale structure of a petal is seen in this high resolution microscopy image. Each of the white dots is the image of an atom, showing the honeycomb structure the comprises the 2D layer of the material. In the inset, an overlay of the atomic model which is used to calculate the macroscopic properties.
A model of a nanoflower petal, showing the production of hydrogen molecules.