Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering



Nanoscale Templates and Scaffolds for Electrochemical Applications


Dr. Viola Birss


Department of Chemistry, University of Calgary


Wednesday, November 9, 2016 at 3:00:00 PM


Pettit Building, Room 102A


Dr. Peter Hesketh


Our fuel cell research efforts have a primary focus on increasing the lifetime of both anode and cathode electrocatalysts. In one area of our PEM fuel cell work, a new class of ordered, mesoporous carbon scaffold materials (both powders and free-standing membranes), with nano-engineered pore diameters and lengths, is being developed to better distribute and stabilize the catalytic nanoparticles attached to their surface. These carbons have also been surface modified to control their wettability and enhance their resistance to oxidation, as well to better anchor the catalytic nanoparticles. In other work, we are constructing ordered metal oxide nanotubular arrays and converting them to conducting forms for use as catalysts and/or support materials in PEM fuel cells. We are also taking advantage of the ordered nano-dimpled surface that is left behind when the nanotubes are released from the surface. These dimples are ideal templates for the formation of an electrochemically addressable nanoarray of metal nanoparticles, formed by the thermal or laser dewetting of thin metal or alloy films.


Professor Birss is a world leader in the area of electrochemistry at surfaces and interfaces and in nanomaterials development for a wide range of clean energy applications. Dr. Birss was a co-founder and leader of the Western Canada Fuel Cell Initiative and the pan-Canadian Solid Oxide Fuel Cells Canada (SOFCC) Research Network, and is currently the Scientific Director of CAESR-Tech (Calgary Advanced Energy Storage and Conversion Research Technology group) at the University of Calgary, a cluster composed of ca. 20 research groups in science and engineering. Dr. Birss has been the recipient of numerous prestigious scientific awards and honors and is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Society for Chemistry, and the Electrochemical Society. She has also been a keynote and plenary speaker at many conferences, is the author of over 250-refereed scientific publications, and is the leader of a research group of ca. 20 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Dr. Birss’s research has been focused particularly on the development of electrocatalytic materials for both high temperature (SOFC) and low temperature (PEM) fuel cells, as well as for electrolysis cells and supercapacitors. A critical and first time discovery in the SOFC area was the unexpected activation of conventional Ni-based electrodes when exposed to sulfur species over a particular temperature range, with advanced interfacial studies suggesting that a monolayer of Ni sulfide forms, thus catalyzing H2 oxidation. Dr. Birss has also developed one of the world’s best electrocatalyst for SOFC applications, functioning both as the air and fuel electrode in advanced symmetrical SOFCs, and also highly catalytic and stable during CO2 splitting, forming useful fuels under electrolysis (energy storage) conditions. Dr. Birss and her team have also invented a novel self-supported, nanoporous carbon scaffold material that is garnering an immense amount of interest in a wide range of applications, showing tremendous promise in fuel cells, redox flow batteries, Li ion batteries, and capacitors, as well as in nanofiltration.


Refreshments will be served.