8 April 2015

New chemistry professor calculates way to cleaner world

Chemistry staff

Electricity can be used to produce chemical substances, and chemical substances can be used to produce electricity. Unfortunately, energy is lost along the way, in both directions. Jan Rossmeisl, a new professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry, hopes to make the transformation between electricity and chemicals more sustainable by calculating his way towards greater efficacy.

Theoretician looking forward to practical playmates

Jan Rossmeisl was trained as an engineer in applied physics at DTU, but for the majority of his research career he has worked with theoretical calculations related to electro catalysis. This equips him to become a valuable addition to the Department of Chemistry, where a group of researchers are already working on the practical end of energy transport in chemical systems. Rossmeisl is looking forward to meeting his new band of “playmates”. Among them, Professor Matthias Arenz, who is an experienced fuel cell researcher.

Solar energy is unbelievably sustainable, yet difficult to store. While electricity can be used to produce hydrogen, which is easier to store, the process of using a fuel cell to convert hydrogen back into electric current halves the original energy input. And that’s why a tenfold improvement in electro catalysis must occur. It’s a challenge, but not impossible,” states Rossmeisl.

Catalyst to procure safe drinking water in disaster areas

The new professor’s interests are not limited to electricity production via the exchange between energy and chemical substances. Rossmeisl is also interested in the possibility of decentralizing chemical production. For example, he has been part of the discovery of a catalyst able that produces hydrogen peroxide. This catalyst can be used in a mobile system able to use solar energy and water to produce hydrogen peroxide, a process that could be used to purify drinking water in disaster areas.

Understanding chemistry to control it

To decipher the conversion process, Jan Rossmeisl will first and foremost calculate occurrences on catalyst surfaces and simulate chemical reactions at the atomic level. Rossmeisl explains that the work is purely theoretical and that a precondition for controlling chemical processes is to understand them at the microscopic level. To this end, he expects to feel at home at the Department of Chemistry in no time at all.

“The Department of Chemistry is staffed with many great theoretical chemists, but I belong to a slightly different theoretical school. So, it will be exciting to be within a different culture and a new scientific community,” says Jan Rossmeisl.

The 42 year-old newly appointed professor is married to Charlotte, a chemist at Novo Nordisk. They have four children.