Resnick Institute

2014 Resonate Award Winners

Thomas Jaramillo

Resonate Award recipient for catalyzing chemical reactions for renewable energy production and storage.

The Challenge

Even if we could totally decarbonize electricity, we would still emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases from burning fuels for transportation. Catalysis today enables the production of important industrial chemicals and in the future has huge potential to produce fuels from renewable sources like sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Expanding our knowledge of how we can accelerate and catalyze chemical reactions efficiently and sustainably is a major global challenge relative to achieving a clean energy economy. This is the challenge Thomas Jaramillo’s work addresses. Through electrochemical investigation, he is discovering sustainable pathways for the production of fuels and chemicals.


The Response

Jaramillo’s research responds to the challenge of finding catalysts that are efficient, stable, selective in producing desired products, and affordable. His approach to designing materials at the atomic scale moves away from randomized trial and error. Instead he uses theory and experiment to help identify and improve catalysts that can enable key chemical transformations. The reactions he’s advancing are those that convert water and CO2 into fuels and chemicals using renewable energy (i.e. solar and wind), and those that convert those fuels back into useable energy in the form of electricity.


The Future

The ultimate long-term benefit of improving these chemical transformations is greater integration of renewable energy to displace our dependence on fossil fuels. Enabling a means to synthesize fuels sustainably would significantly reduce green house gas emissions. Solving these problems could also increase energy security in the US and across the globe, while also helping to slow or reverse our climate impact.