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CIE Researcher of Distinction, July 2015

Celest Uche OkoliCelest Uche Okoli

Each month, the Center for Inclusive Education showcases the outstanding research being conducted by one of our talented scholars in our Research Café series. In addition, we recognize this scholar as a Researcher of Distinction and share the details of his/her journey to becoming an accomplished scholar. This month's Researcher of Distinction is Celest Uche Okoli, PhD candidate in Materials Science and Engineering. Celest presented his talk, ‘Doped carbon nanotube as electrode material for energy conversion and storage systems’ on Wednesday, July 8, 2015.

Celest's Path Into Research

Celest was born in Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, Nigeria. He attended St. Augustine Secondary & High School where he graduated with distinction at 16 years old and played on the soccer team. He gained acceptance, on partial scholarship, to study chemical engineering at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He graduated in August 1985 with BS & M.Egr degrees in Chemical Engineering. Celest’s undergraduate research was in fossil fuel technology. Specifically, he was involved in the designs of separation membranes/columns for oil refinery and petrochemical plants. He returned to Nigeria and worked for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as a process/project engineer. In January 2000, he moved to New York with his family and worked for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for 12 years as an emergency response materials engineer, prior to enrolling at Stony Brook University in 2010. Since summer 2010 Celest has been associated with BNL - first as a GEM Fellow at the Light Source(II) project and currently as a  Turner/AGEP-T FRAME Fellow with the Electrochemistry and the Sustainable Energy Technology groups. Celest’s current research interest for his PhD work is in renewable energy materials; the development of new materials for electrode design for energy conversion and storage systems; (fuel cells, electrolyzers, capacitors) and water/wastewater treatment systems. Celest enjoys playing soccer, basketball and fitness.

Celest's Current Research

Describe the work you will be presenting for your Research Café.

Electrical energy is generated by the conversion of chemical energy via redox reactions at the anode and cathode. Electrodes must be an electronic conductor that can bring three phases: gaseous fuel, liquid/solid electrolyte and the electrode itself in contact without being consumed or corroded. Electrodes must be able to convert ionic conductivity into electrical conductivity. Therefore, Electrode materials are very critical in energy conversion and storage in renewable energy, transportation, electrical grids and water treatment application.

A review of DOE research publications guideline revealed that there is renewed focus on using reduced precious metal complexes because of the instability of non- precious metal catalysts on the cathode (ORR) in acidic media for electrochemical systems. DOE has stated that the stability of any electrocatalyst is very crucial for its commercialization.

Our research discusses a green synthetic method of carbon nanotube (CNT) and activated carbon based electrode material fabrication using ionic liquid assisted sonochemical (ultrasound) synthesis. This technique combines the super molecular chemistry of ionic liquids for particle size control, amount and distribution of the decorated nanoparticles on the (CNT). Nitriding at a higher pressure and other interfacial engineering conditions are used to improve stability; to meet the requirement of practical applications.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on?

Yes, atomic modeling. The primary challenge in making materials with ideal properties is that an understanding of the atomic environments cannot be easily obtained or measured. Today, modern computational approaches that use the first principles computation methods play an important role in developing and optimizing new energy conversion and storage materials. Density Functional Theory (DFT) can be used to gain useful insight into the optimal material (phase) for specific systems under consideration and it provides guidance for the design of experiments. (DFT) uses quantum mechanics to determine the structure or property of materials. This method relies only on the basic laws of physics such as quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics and does not require any experimental input beyond the nature of the constituent elements (and in some cases the structure). Specifically, we would use DFT to show how the structural components in a material such as N-PdMo/MWCNT complex doped at different temperatures and pressures are used to predict the material properties (i.e. voltage, stability, electronic property). The combination of virtual materials design/characterization knowledge-guided by experimentation, would accelerate the pace and efficiency of development of new high energy, high power density electrode materials.

What was the deciding factor for you to come to Stony Brook for your graduate studies?

There is presently a strong focus on quantifiable reduction of fossil energy use and the development of alternative energy sources. This calls for sustainability innovation in government, industry and education policies. In 2010, in recognition that the integration of advances in science and technology with government policies are very crucial for any sustainable development strategy, the NYC

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) created a renewable energy group. The DEP is one of the largest energy consumers in New York City and the state of New York with several clean water treatment facilities located all over the state and 14 wastewater treatment plants in NYC; treating over 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater daily. Since then, DEP has reentered the energy market by making investments in new energy infrastructure and plans to generate clean energy, and build Cogeneration plants at each of the wastewater treatments plants for the purpose of using anaerobic digester gas produced at the plants. Wind and solar power facilities are also being installed in various locations. Initially, my goal was to assist the DEP to scale-up some of the most innovative ideas in clean energy, energy efficiency to meet its new energy goals in all the water and waste water treatment plants.

Stony Brook University’s Mechanical Engineering Department program in energy technology specialization looked attractive to me. While going through the program in my first year, I began to appreciate more the effect of energy materials in improving the efficiencies of renewable energy technologies. My focus changed to energy materials through my association with BNL.

What are your future goals?

My short term goal is to seek a postdoctoral position at BNL and Stony Brook University; and possibly develop collaboration opportunities between Stony Brook University, universities in Nigeria and BNL. Furthermore, the inter-dependency between water and energy systems coupled with the possibility of reduced water availability in the future due to climate change has important implications for policy makers in various countries around the world. Because of the large upfront costs, and the long operational lifetimes for energy and water infrastructure systems, it is important to understand the existing nature of this coupling, estimate the impacts under various future scenarios, and identify robust policy options to improve energy and water security. In view of my experience in this area, I would also consider positions in the government sector, locally and overseas. But over the next one year, my focus is to complete my research work for my PhD degree.

What do you enjoy most about research?

Developing novel materials and product scale-ups, and mentoring younger scientists/engineers.