Our work focuses in two main areas. First, we are developing new technologies to generate electrical power from renewable energy sources (e.g., the mixing of rivers with seawater) and waste products (e.g., carbon dioxide, waste heat, and acids and bases produced in industrial settings). We capture this energy using novel electrochemical systems that borrow principles from conventional fuel cells and batteries. Second, we seek to understand how minerals form and transform in the presence of water, and we apply this knowledge to prevent and remediate environmental pollution, mitigate climate change, and reconstruct past conditions on Earth. We study these processes using a combination of electrochemical, spectroscopic, microscopic, and isotopic techniques. This work is inherently interdisciplinary and often involves collaborations with geochemists, material scientists, engineers, chemists, and physicists. The research projects we are currently working on can be found below. Interested undegraduate and graduate students and post-docs should contact Dr. Gorski.
When two waters with different salinities mix, entropic energy is released. Here, we are interested in capturing this energy in the form of electricity using technniques borrowed from conventional batteries and fuel cells. These salinity differences can be natural (e.g., when freshwater reaches seawater at coasts) or engineered (e.g., using thermolytic salts that have highly temperature-dependent solubilities). For engineered salinity gradients, waste heat from power plants and industrial sources can be used to generate salinity differences. My group is interested in developing new electrochemical systems that can make this technology economically viable and sustainable by understanding the fundamental mechanisms of electrochemical deposition and dissolution reactions. (Additional details can be found here).
Active collaborators: Bruce Logan (Penn State University, University Park)
Many minerals contain metals, such as iron and manganese, that can participate in redox (i.e., electron transfer) reactions with dissolved species in water. These reacions can influence the fate of pollutants and nutrients in the environment, affect the global carbon cycle, and can be used to generate and store energy. We aim to characterize the mechanisms and thermodynamics of electron transfer reactions involving minerals to further our abilities to understand and exploit them (e.g., as electrode materials in batteries).
Active collaborators: Michael Sander (ETH, Zurich), Thomas Hofstetter (Eawag, Switzerland), Peter Heaney (Penn State University, University Park), William Burgos (Penn State University, University Park), Eric Roden (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Matthew Ginder-Vogel (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
The isotopic and elemental compositions of minerals are used to reconstruct past conditions on Earth and other planets. Additionally, minerals can incorporate or release trace elements, which can be used for remediation purposes. Our team is interested in how a mineral's composition changes under equilibrium conditions. Recent work by our group and others have found that atoms within a mineral can isotopically mix with dissolved ions under apparent equilibrium conditions. Remarkably, this exchange occurs without any major changes in the mineral's structure, shape, or size. We are studying this process using a combination of isotope tracer experiments and high resolution microscopy.