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John Kitchin: Then and Now / 2010 Early Career Award Winner


Our use of energy has a significant impact on the earth. Renewable energy sources including solar and wind can help mitigate this impact. But they tend to be intermittent and not easily integrated into transportation, where we often need liquid fuels. The intermittency and need for liquid fuels means we need a way to store energy and produce hydrogen. One solution to this is a renewable, cost-effective, energy efficient way to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Electrochemical water splitting is one of the most promising approaches to create hydrogen from water using renewable electricity. This process takes place in two reactions. In one reaction, water is oxidized to form oxygen, electrons, and hydrogen ions. The hydrogen ions and electrons are separated and recombined at an electrode to form hydrogen. The first reaction is difficult and the source of most of the inefficiency in this process.

This Early Career Award made possible a research program that used state-of-the-art computational and experimental tools to identify an iron-nickel-based material that is cheap and efficient for oxidizing water to oxygen. This material could enable the production of hydrogen from water.

Through international collaborations, we developed a theoretical model that shows theoretical limits on the maximum efficiency of these kinds of materials. It suggests we are close to the limit. Finally, we developed a new way to explain trends in reactivity for oxide materials which has enabled the rational design of new oxide catalysts for applications in the renewable generation of hydrogen from water. 


John Kitchin is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.


The Early Career Award program provides financial support that is foundational to young scientists, freeing them to focus on executing their research goals. The development of outstanding scientists early in their careers is of paramount importance to the Department of Energy Office of Science. By investing in the next generation of researchers, the Office of Science champions lifelong careers in discovery science.

For more information, please go to the Early Career Research Program.


Multifunctional Oxygen Evolution Electrocatalyst Design and Synthesis

The objective of this project is to build a theoretical foundation for the molecular design of non‐ noble metal, oxide‐based catalysts for the electrocatalytic reduction of oxygen, and to synthesize and use stable and active electrocatalysts of tailored structure and composition.

The efficiency of various energy technologies critically depends on the efficiency of oxygen evolution, yet detailed mechanistic understanding of such multielectron reduction is lacking for other than a few metal electrocatalysts. In particular, metal‐oxide based electrodes (e.g., Ni oxide) are desirable for reasons of abundance when compared to noble‐metal alloys, yet high‐level electronic structure calculations of oxides under reaction conditions and of the organic or inorganic reactions catalyzed by them are rare.

In this project, utilizing an atomistic thermodynamic framework based on density functional theory, the stability of nickel oxide surfaces under oxygen evolution conditions will be assessed as a function of the promoter transition metal oxide used. High surface area, mesoporous and promoted nickel oxide nanocatalysts will be synthesized and used as electrocatalysts for water electrolysis, for the purpose of testing and refining the theoretical methods.


I.C. Man, H.‐Y. Su, F. Calle‐Vallejo, H.A. Hansen, J.I. Martínez, N.G. İnoğlu, J. Kitchin, T.F. Jaramillo, J.K. Nørskov, and J. Rossmeisl, “Universality in oxygen evolution electrocatalysis on oxide surfaces.” ChemCatChem 3, 1159 (2011). [DOI: 10.1002/cctc.201000397]

J. Landon, E. Demeter, N. İnoğlu, C. Keturakis, I.E. Wachs, R. Vasić, A.I. Frenkel, and J.R. Kitchin, “Spectroscopic characterization of mixed Fe-Ni oxide electrocatalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction in alkaline electrolytes.” ACS Catalysis 2, 1793 (2012). [DOI: 10.1021/cs3002644]

J.R. Kitchin, “Examples of effective data sharing in scientific publishing.” ACS Catalysis 5, 3894 (2015). [DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.5b00538]


Additional profiles of the 2010 Early Career Award winners can be found at

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