One of the technological challenges of today is to find a way to store energy from renewable sources that would be economically and ecologically sustainable on a large scale. A possible solution is to use a hydrogen cycle: when there is enough electricity, we decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysers. Then, when we need to get electricity back, we can use a fuel cell, which is an inverse device to the electrolyser: we bring stored hydrogen and oxygen from air and get water and electricity. Thanks to that we can balance the grid and/or hydrogen can also be distributed to filling stations for refueling hydrogen-powered cars (or other means of transport). These concepts are the basis of the so-called hydrogen cycle and will allow a shift away from dependence on fossil fuels.
The main obstacle to the development of hydrogen cycle technologies is a high cost of electrolysers and fuel cells. Both devices must contain catalysts for the necessary electrochemical reactions, which are generally based on noble metals (platinum or iridium). Researchers of the nanomaterials group are therefore working on development of cheaper catalysts that will be composed of less critical chemical elements, or they will contain only very small amounts of precious metals. For this purpose, research of model and real catalysts is combined. Model catalysts are catalytic systems which are simplified in a defined way allowing us to examine and understand in detail the basic processes that take place on them. Real catalysts have a more complex structure (usually containing nanoparticles), which gives them great efficiency, and their study allows us to verify the concepts proposed in the study of model catalysts and move research closer to applications.
The second main branch of the group research is a work on chemical and biological sensors. Nanostructured chemical sensors enable sensitive detection of various gases in the environment. Biological sensors can then detect the presence of specific biomolecules or cells with certain properties in biological samples.