Jiayin Yuan. Foto: Markus Marcetic © Knut och Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien
Jiayin Yuan. Foto: Markus Marcetic © Knut och Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien

Activated carbon has pores that may be anything from a couple of angstroms to several nanometers in size, in which fat and scent molecules from cooking smells, for example, can stick. These tiny pores give the material an extremely large surface area, so carbon filters have a high capacity to adsorb or store substances.

Jiayin Yuan from Clarkson University, New York State, is developing methods to produce new forms of carbon membranes, heteroatom-doped gradient porous carbon membranes, with a more precise control of pore structure, size and size distribution. By introducing different atoms, such as nitrogen, sulphur or boron, in the nanoporous membrane, he will tailor-make them for specific functions in electrocatalysis and ion diffusion control.

– Porous carbons have been one of my recent research topics. The carbon membrane project is above all an interdisciplinary topic merging the current research wave of porous carbons with the modern membrane technology, a classic example combining fundamental science with advanced materials engineering.

One long-term aim of the project is to use a porous carbon membrane to electrochemically convert carbon dioxide to formic acid at a high efficiency, which can be used as an environment-friendly fuel in fuel cells. Another aim is to design a membrane that can utilize a salt gradient in water, for example where river water meets sea water, to produce energy known as blue energy.

As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Jiayin Yuan will move his activities to the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry, Stockholm University.

– We hope the research funded by Wallenberg Academy Fellows in the next five years will deepen our understanding of structure-property-function relationship in the membrane and apply such knowledge to build up prototype energy devices that outperform the state-of-the-art ones.