2024 FrenchBIC thesis prize to Afridi Zamader

Two thesis prizes were awarded in 2024, to Afridi Zamader and Andrea Fasano.

Afridi Zamader

Novel bioinspired and bio hybrid electrode materials for hydrogen production

To combat global warming, we must transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, reducing reliance on carbon-emitting fuels. One promising avenue is storing solar energy as clean hydrogen (H2) from water (H2O) through a process called ‘solar electrolysis’. H2 produced via solar electrolysis is called ‘Green H2’ as the process is free from carbon in principle. However, this process is complex (therefore sluggish) and requires catalysts (i.e., a material that reduces the energy barrier of the reaction and make it faster). Currently, “Green H2” technology is still in its early stages, necessitating further research and development. The eSCALED project, supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 initiative, aims to address this challenge by creating a photovoltaic-electrochemical device known as an “artificial leaf” for solar electrolysis. As a part of this project, my thesis focused on developing electrode materials (a conductive material through which electricity enters or leaves an object, substance, or region) in that device to produce H2 from water (Figure 1). The study was accomplished mainly under two research groups i.e. Solhycat and Berggren group under supervision of Dr. Vincent ARTERO and co-supervision of Prof. Gustav BERGGREN from University of Grenoble Alpes and Uppsala University, respectively.

[FeFe] hydrogenase enzymes (the enzyme is the catalyst made by nature) already architected by nature produce H2 from water at excellent rates (~10,000 H2 molecules per enzyme molecule per second) with negligible over potential (extra thermodynamic thrust or force) requirements. Firstly, I studied the [FeFe] hydrogenase enzyme by preparing a semi-synthetic version of it, elucidating the role of its active site and its interaction with surrounding amino acids. This study highlighted the importance of the protein scaffold in facilitating high catalytic activity for H+/H2 conversion (Paper I).

Then, I chose a [FeFe] based active site, inspired from [FeFe] hydrogenase. To make the catalyst applicable in device like condition, it needed to be immobilised on a conductive support (like carbon nanotubes). I redesigned, synthesised and crystallised the catalyst accordingly. The strategy resulted in more than one fold high catalyst loading than previous reports on closely related catalysts with excellent durability. However, the electrocatalytic H2 production activity was moderate in water (Paper II).

Then I took one-step forward and encapsulated the same [FeFe] site inside a set of designed multifunctional polymeric scaffold to emulate an enzyme-like environment. This led to an almost 70 times improvement in catalytic activity than previous system, albeit limited by site degradation. I also studied its environmental footprint (How much CO2 eq. emits per 1 kg of H2 production) by Life Cycle Assessment study (LCA) study. Continuing the optimization process, I replaced the active site with a more robust alternative, resulting in improved durability albeit with slightly reduced activity for H2 production (Paper III, Paper IV).

Overall, my thesis demonstrates the feasibility of developing efficient, biologically inspired catalysts for hydrogen production, marking a significant step towards sustainable energy solutions.

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the envisioned eSCALED device for producing H2 and reduced CO2-based chemicals using solar electrolysis and the proposed cathode materials for H2 production. Copyright: eSCALED project.
Post-doctoral research
• Affiliation : Université Paris Cité (France)
• Years: 2023-present
• Project title: Molecular-based catalytic photoelectrode for selective CO2 reduction
o Supervisor: Prof. Marc ROBERTDoctoral study (European joint doctorate)
• Affiliation: Uppsala University (Sweden) & University of Grenoble Alpes (France)
• Years: 2019-2023
• Project title: Novel bioinspired and biohybrid electrode materials based for hydrogen production
o Supervisors: Dr. Vincent ARTERO (University of Grenoble Alpes) & Prof. Gustav BERGRREN (Uppsala University)Master’s study
• Affiliation: Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar (India)
• Years: 2016-18
• Subject: Chemistry
• Project title: Designing of Bioinspired hydrogen production catalyst Co-Salen and Co- mono oxime complexes
o Supervisor: Prof. Arnab Dutta (Now in Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India)
Bachelor’s study
• Affiliation: Aligarh Muslim university (India)
• Years: 2013-16
• Subject: Chemistry