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Introducing the PLOS ONE Energy Materials Collection – Author Perspectives, Part 2

New and modified materials for future energy production, storage and use is an active area of research, where the progress made will shape society and support a sustainable future.  In August of 2021, PLOS ONE published a new collection of Energy Materials papers, showcasing state-of-the-art research in this exciting field. We interviewed some of the authors whose research is part of this collection, in order to shed further light on the discoveries they have made and the challenges they continue to tackle.

Sascha Raufeisen

Sascha is currently a PhD student at Institute of Technical and Environmental Chemistry at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany. B.Sc. in chemistry (topic bachelor’s thesis: “Synthesis of a thiofunctionalized phosphoramidite for DNA synthesis”). M. Sc. in environmental chemistry (topic master’s thesis: “Investigation of the pyroelectrocatalytic oxidation capability of lithium niobate and lithium tantalate in an aquatic system“). Research focus: new advanced oxidation processes (AOP’s) and combinations (e.g. ultrasound with electrochemistry or photocatalysis) and pyrocatalysis (mechanism elucidation, modelling, application, catalyst development/synthesis) analytical chemistry and water analytics.

Sascha Raufeisen’s paper in this collection: Raufeisen S, Stelter M, Braeutigam P (2020) Pyrocatalysis—The DCF assay as a pH-robust tool to determine the oxidation capability of thermally excited pyroelectric powders. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0228644. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0228644

Can you tell us a bit about the beginning of this project that led to your PLOS ONE paper? If you weren’t involved in the study from the start, what was your first impression of the study?

SR: In 2014, I worked on a research module on the topic of electrochemical COD determination as part of my master’s degree in environmental chemistry. During my literature research, I read a lot on the topic of new and innovative advanced oxidation processes. By chance, I came across an article by Gutmann et al. In this article, they presented for the first time a wastewater treatment process based on thermally excited pyroelectric materials. I was immediately fascinated by the underlying mechanism and the prospect of exploiting the huge residual heat potentials in industry for the purification of wastewater. When, by chance, the first author of this study was also working in Jena and we exchanged ideas with him about the topic, I was hooked. I decided to change the topic of my master’s thesis and set out on the stony path of working on a completely new topic. After many missteps, corrections, and minor successes, I finished my master’s thesis with ten times more questions than when I started. Consequently, I decided to investigate pyrocatalysis further as part of my doctoral thesis. In the course of this work, I came to the conclusion that the methodology of the DCF assay needs to be fundamentally revised, which eventually resulted in my PLOS ONE paper.

Pyrocatalysis is a very exciting new research area. Do you envision that it will be possible in the future to apply this to energy generation applications of different kinds, in addition to wastewater remediation?

SR: In my opinion, further potential fields of application are H2 generation and the disinfection of (waste)water. Pyrocatalytic H2 generation could contribute to the supply of industry (e.g. steel production) with sustainably produced H2. Pyrocatalytic disinfection may gain importance especially with regard to future pandemic prevention. At the moment, however, the application of pyrocatalysis in all these three fields of application is highly dependent on the further development of pyroelectric catalysts. The DCF assay presented in the PLOS ONE paper can make a valuable contribution here.

As an early career scientist, how did you prepare yourself for the review process when submitting your first few papers? Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known before that first submission?

SR: In order to prepare myself, I consulted more experienced scientists at our institute. They explained what I had to pay attention to in the cover letter, the abstract and the introduction. They also helped me with the suggestion of reviewers. The communication with the reviewers went smoothly. The most challenging part of my first two publications was choosing the right journal. With such a new topic at the cross section between environmental/water chemistry and materials science, I received many rejections due to the lack of fit.

What hopes do you have for the future of research into sustainable energy solutions? Do you have a clear sense at this point where you would like to go in your career?

SR: I hope that all industrialized countries will finally recognize that we must increase our efforts extremely in order to slow down climate change as much as possible. An essential point here is the conversion of our entire energy demand (electricity and heat) to a regenerative basis. Since this is not possible with current technologies, research in this area must be accelerated. In addition to storage technologies, I believe that concepts for the use of residual heat must also be further developed. One technique could be pyrocatalysis, which could be used for wastewater treatment and H2 generation at the same time. I want to contribute to this transformation with my research.

Jeremi Dauchet

Jeremi Dauchet is a physicist who received his PhD in chemical engineering in 2012. He is expert in transport physics and radiative transfer in particular (including electromagnetic theory applied to the determination of radiative properties), with special emphasis on the Monte Carlo method. Associate professor at Pascal Institute (France), his research is applied to photoreactive processes engineering.

Jeremi Dauchet’s paper in this collection: Supplis C, Dauchet J, Gattepaille V, Gros F, Vourc’h T, Cornet J-F (2021) Radiative analysis of luminescence in photoreactive systems: Application to photosensitizers for solar fuel production. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0255002. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0255002

Can you tell us a bit about the beginning of this project that led to your PLOS ONE paper? If you weren’t involved in the study from the start, what was your first impression of the study?

JD: This work was initiated by experimental results obtained by Caroline Supplis during her PhD. We observed unexpected yet significant impact of luminescence when studying bio-inspired H2 production in a benchmark photoreactor. The analysis of those experiments led us to carry the thorough radiative study presented in our PLOS ONE paper.

We noticed that you shared your Monte Carlo algorithm with your PLOS ONE paper. What motivated you to do this? Do you have any experience of using other researcher’s code from publications, or know of anyone who has used the code you’ve shared?

JD: Indeed, we are dedicated to open research and distributing open source codes and databases is part of that approach. We often provide the codes used in our publications as supplementary material or as links directed to our websites. Ensuring that these codes and databases will be available to readers in the long run is a concern. We know that our codes and databases are used by other researchers because they contact us when they need advises (or when it is no longer available at the provided url!). When those codes are mature enough, we work with Meso-Star for software development, support, maintenance, integration and distribution under GNU general public license (www.meso-star.com/projects/misc/about-en.html). Conversely we routinely use other researcher’s codes, for example the famous Mie code for electromagnetic scattering provided by Craig F. Bohren and Donald R. Huffman as an appendix in their book “Absorption and Scattering of Light by Small Particles”.

Was there anything that surprised you during this study, or did everything go exactly according to plan?

JD: This entire study had not been envisaged when Caroline’s PhD research-plan was being drawn up! Photoreactive processes are controlled at different scales by radiative transfer and therefore, we knew that radiative analysis will be an important part of the work. But we did not anticipate such significant effects of luminescence, which led Caroline to 3 years of investigations.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

Featured image: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0243296

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