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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student Daniel Frey heads to NREL

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NYU Tandon graduate student Daniel Frey

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is focused on the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies. Located in Colorado, the Lab will soon be home to NYU Tandon graduate student Daniel Frey, the recipient of a prestigious award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Frey was chosen from a competitive pool of applicants from across the country to take part in the Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program, which will enable him to conduct part of his thesis research at his host lab in collaboration with a DOE scientist.

His project, “Developing hydrogel based catalyst binders for improved CO2 reduction,” is aimed at allowing industries, such as oil refining or plastic manufacturing, to convert the copious amounts of CO2 they generate to useful electrofuels.

“In order to reduce carbon emissions, devices that can upgrade CO2 to valuable products are extremely important,” he explained. “But cost‐effective production of electrofuels from CO2 requires electrochemical reactors that can operate at high current density and high selectivity towards desired products, and mass transport of CO2 to the electrocatalyst becomes the liming factor.” Although some progress has been made in improving the situation by transitioning from aqueous CO2 cells to gas‐fed flow systems (which are able to attain a higher concentration of CO2 at the catalyst interface), the ionomer binder in the catalyst layers of membrane electrode assemblies for CO2 electro-reduction devices has yet to be properly studied. 

That’s where Frey’s research comes in; at NREL he’ll be studying a new class of highly tunable ionomers, ion-gel binders, that can have strong CO2 transport properties and that can be modified to obtain an optimal chemical environment for CO2 electro-reduction. 

At Tandon, Frey studies under Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Miguel Modestino, who leads the Multifunctional Material Systems Laboratory, known for producing award-winning students. (This year alone, in addition to Frey’s SCGSR, Modestino’s students have won multiple National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships and a Zuckerman Postdoctoral Scholarship.)  

“Daniel’s DOE fellowship is a well-deserved recognition for his innovative work on electrochemical energy technologies,” Modestino said. “Working alongside leading energy researchers at NREL will not only complement his doctoral training at NYU Tandon, but will help to build bridges between the two institutions.”