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UW Crest with engineering background
April 23, 2024

CBE PhD student Seth Anderson selected for DOE Graduate Student Research program

Written By: Jason Daley

Renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind power, are an important element in the clean energy transition. But they do have one major drawback; they don’t produce energy unless the breeze is blowing or the sun is shining. To get around this, it’s possible to use their electricity to power electrochemical reactions that generate clean burning hydrogen. That hydrogen could then be used to generate electricity, power cars and trucks, and be used in industrial processes 24/7.

Seth Anderson
Seth Anderson

The problem is, making hydrogen electrochemically is challenging. That’s why Seth Anderson, a PhD student in chemical and biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is planning to use a Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research award to advance the technology. The program enables highly qualified graduate students to pursue their thesis research for up to one year while working at one of the United State’s national laboratories. Anderson will pursue his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

Anderson currently studies electrochemistry in the lab of CBE Assistant Professor Matt Gebbie. In particular, Anderson studies the water reduction reaction, or hydrogen evolution reaction, that occurs when water reacts with an electrode and produces hydrogen gas. Specifically, he studies how various electrolytes, or the fluids in batteries or electrochemical systems that carry an electrical charge, impact the performance of the water reduction reaction.

“I am very interested in how unique electrolyte compositions can influence the way water structures itself at the catalyst surface,” he says. “Essentially, I am trying to link water reduction performance with aspects of electrolyte composition and water hydrogen-bond structures near the catalyst.”

At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Anderson will work with Dr. Maximillian Jaugstetter to further study these unique electrolytes and how the water structures they create can impact reaction rates. At LBNL, Anderson will have access to a synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator, that will allow him to get high resolution spectra that show how the electrolyte is structured on a molecular level.

“I am stoked out the wazoo at getting this award. I am a very fortunate person to even be in the position to apply and I am just so excited other people are interested in the research we do in the Gebbie lab,” says Anderson. “I think I have always been motivated by trying to do my part to produce green energy and this is just an extension of that. I want to answer basic questions that other people can use to scale up renewable energy processes and this kind of award just makes me feel like I am doing my part.”

This year, the Department of Energy selected 86 graduate students from 31 states and Puerto Rico for the program. Collin Sutton, a PhD student in the Department of Geoscience at UW-Madison, was also selected for the program and will pursue his research at Los Alamos National Laboratory.