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James Blakemore’s research featured in PNAS and C&E News

Monday, November 21, 2016

To avoid the detrimental ecological impacts of global warming, we need clean-burning alternatives to fossil fuels.  Hydrogen holds promise for use as a fuel, as it emits no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases when burned or consumed in a fuel cell.

Yet, to be truly CO2-free, hydrogen must be made from water zapped with electricity acquired from renewable sources—a costly process by today’s technologies. James Blakemore, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Kansas, is on a quest to learn more about how this process works and find a way to make it more efficient and affordable.

“Our group uses the tools of contemporary inorganic chemistry, catalysis, and surface chemistry to shed light on the elementary reaction steps involved in hydrogen evolution,” said Blakemore.

In June, Blakemore reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences how his reserach group isolated an unusual intermediate in a reaction pathway that leads to hydrogen production. 

His unexpected finding was highlighted in Chemical & Engineering News earlier this year. Remarkably, another team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also observed the unusual intermediate in the context of their work.

These reports show that a popular ligand present during hydrogen production reactions, called pentamethylcyclopentadienyl, or Cp*, is not an innocent bystander as previously thought. Instead, Cp* can be actively involved in the reaction, briefly bonding to hydrogen before the hydrogen moves on to its ultimate destination.  

“These discoveries illustrate the versatility of mechanisms by which protons and hydrides can be delivered to and from metals,” says Morris Bullock, director of the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in the C&E News article.

Bullock goes on to say that this unexpected finding could be “intentionally exploited in the design of new catalysts,” which is exactly what Blakemore intends to do in his quest for finding durable, affordable and active catalytic systems for making hydrogen and other renewable fuels.

Blakemore joined KU in January 2016 after a postdoctoral stay at the California Institute of Technology. He earned his PhD at Yale University after earning Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Wichita State University.  He is currently an active collaborator at KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, helping the center achieve its mission of inventing cleaner, safer, and economically viable technologies for fuels and chemicals.

Related Publications:

Aguirre Quintana, L., Johnson, S.I., Corona, S.L., Villatoro, W., Goddard, W.A., III, Takase, M.K.,  VanderVelde, D.G., Winkler, J.R.,* Gray, H.B.,* Blakemore, J.D.*, Proton-Hydride Tautomerism in Hydrogen Evolution Catalysis, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2016, 113, 6409-6414, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1606018113.

Chemical and Engineering News on June 13, 2016: “Chemists announce the end of the innocence for cyclopentadienyl.” Link ***

--Story by Claudia Bode

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