Research Overview

Achieving a sustainable energy economy is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. The Higgins Lab at McMaster University focuses on addressing this challenge through the design, synthesis and characterization of novel nanomaterial catalysts, and their integration into electrochemical devices, such as fuel cells or electrolyzers. Nanomaterial catalysts and electrochemical devices will be integral parts of a sustainable energy economy, as they will enable the interconversion of electrical and chemical energy. Put simply, they harness renewable sources of electricity (wind, solar, hydro) to produce the fuels and chemicals that society depends upon.

Students in the Higgins group apply catalyst design principles (i.e., an understanding of what makes a catalyst good) to synthesize nanomaterial catalysts designed on the atomic scale to possess desirable structures and properties. The nanomaterial catalysts are then tested for electrochemical activity towards small molecule conversions, focusing on the use of environmentally abundant molecules as reactants (i.e., O2, N2, H2O, CH4) to produce fuels, chemicals and fertilizers. Catalyst structure-property-performance relationships are established through extensive spectroscopic and microscopic nanomaterial characterization using advanced techniques available at McMaster University, including at the state-of-the-art Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy facilities. Best in class nanomaterial catalysts are integrated into working electrochemical device prototypes that are engineered for performance validation and demonstration.

Some of the current electrochemical reactions and technologies of interest in the Higgins group include:

  • Electrochemical reduction of CO2 (i.e., artificial photosynthesis) to produce carbon-based fuels and feedstock chemicals

  • Water electrolyzers for sustainable hydrogen production

  • Low temperature fuel cells for transportation application

  • Electrochemical production of hydrogen peroxide for water treatment applications

  • Electrochemical activation and conversion of natural gas to produce value added fuels and chemicals

  • Operando / in situ characterization of electrocatalyst and electrode materials

Keywords: Electrochemistry, electrocatalysis, CO2 conversion, fuel cells, electrolysis, nanomaterials, sustainable energy, energy conversion and storage, operando characterization

Recent Publications

We recently published a perspective piece on the challenges and opportunities for generating fundamental knowledge and achieving technological progress toward the development of practical CO2 electrolyzers. 

Higgins, Hahn, Xiang, Jaramillo, Weber, Gas-Diffusion Electrodes for Carbon Dioxide Reduction: A New ParadigmACS Energy Letters  (2019) 4, 317.

Higgins, Wette, Gibbons, Siahrostami, Hahn, Escudero-Escribano, Garcia-Melchor, Ulissi, Davis, Mehta, Clemens, Nørskov, Jaramillo, Copper Silver Thin Films with Metastable Miscibility for Oxygen Reduction Electrocatalysis in Alkaline Electrolytes, ACS Applied Energy Materials (2018) 5, 1990.

Recent News

We have positions available for highly motivated graduate students or postdoctoral fellows who are interested in developing novel nanomaterials and energy technologies that will help transition our world towards sustainability. If interested, please send your CV, transcript and a brief statement of interest to Drew (