Personal profile

Research overview

We are interested in the relationship between the properties and behaviour of functional materials and the structure and composition of these materials down to the atomic scale. Particular interests are ionically- and electronically-conducting materials for fuel cells and other electrochemical reactors; heterogeneous catalysts for pollution abatement and fuel cells; and Electro-Active Polymers for actuator devices. We use electrochemical techniques, especially Impedance Spectroscopy, high resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy and catalysis techniques such as Temperature-Programmed Desorption, Reduction and Oxidation (TPD/R/O).

Research interests

Properties and Structure of Functional Materials

Functional materials possess unusual properties which are often of great technological interest. They may have novel optical, magnetic, electrical, catalytic or thermal properties, for example. These properties are governed to a large degree by their structure and composition at very small length scales. We study new functional materials in the areas of Electrochemistry and Catalysis. We are particularly interested in electrically-conducting and catalytically active materials for Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) and related electrochemical reactors. A more recent interest is in Electro-Active Polymer (EAP) actuators that bend on application of an electrical potential. Catalysts are used in about 70% of all industrial chemical processes and are increasingly important in recycling and environmental protection. Heterogeneous catalysts - vehicle exhaust catalysts, for example - are another strong interest of the group. Through the application of powerful analytical techniques, such as Scanning and High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (SEM and HRTEM) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), we study the relationship between the properties and behaviour of these functional materials and their structure and composition, down to the atomic scale.

Materials for Solid State Electrochemical Reactors

In a fuel cell, chemical energy is converted directly to electrical energy by the electrochemical oxidation of a fuel. SOFCs contain ceramic electrolytes such as the O2- ion conductor, Yttria-Stabilised Zirconia (YSZ). SOFCs are able to use a wide range of fuels, including biofuels, and, if the excess heat from the SOFC is utilised, efficiencies of up to 80% can be attained (cf. internal combustion engine: 25%). A recent project investigated the use of proton-conducting ceramics in a novel electrochemical reactor for combined chemicals synthesis and electrical power generation.

Electro-Active Polymers

Certain polymers are able to change shape dramatically and reversibly on the application of a small electrical potential and may find a range of novel applications in robotics and as artificial muscle and valves in medicine. We study the diffusion of water within EAP materials using MRI to understand the mechanism of actuation. A working electrochemical cell is used within the MRI instrument - to our knowledge, the first time this has ever been done. This provides information on the position, movement and chemical environment of the water molecules from which a model of their interaction with the polymer structure has been proposed.

Heterogeneous Catalysts

Through academic and industrial links in the UK and abroad, we study both conventional supported metal catalysts, such as automotive .three-way. catalysts for pollution abatement, and formulations developed for use in SOFCs.

Biography

Dr Richard Baker is a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry and Materials Science at St Andrews, where he has worked since 2005. He holds a BSc in Chemistry from Durham and a PhD in Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology from Imperial College. He is a Chartered Chemist, MInsP and was elected FRSC in 2016. Between his BSc and PhD he gained three years’ valuable industrial R&D experience at British Steel plc. In his PhD, he used temperature programmed (TP) methods to study reduction-oxidation (redox) and reaction processes over new perovskite materials for Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFCs) anodes under I.S. Metcalfe and B.C.H. Steele. During three E.U. Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellowship positions at Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble (France, with M. Kleitz) and the Universities of Aveiro (Portugal, with F.M.B. Marques) and Cádiz (Spain, with S. Bernal) he worked (in the languages of those countries) on: fundamental processes at electrode-solid electrolyte interfaces; preparation and electrochemical evaluation of doped materials for SOFCs; and activity and electron microscopy studies of Ce-Zr oxide-supported metal nanoparticle vehicle exhaust catalysts, respectively. He obtained a lectureship at Dundee in 1999 where he taught inorganic and physical chemistry and continued his research in heterogeneous catalysis and SOFCs. He was one of six founder members of the EPSRC Supergen Fuel Cell Consortium in which he advanced methods for studying nanostructure-performance relationships in SOFC systems and developed anode materials based on doped ceria materials. He established a novel new research activity in electromechanics and in operando MRI imaging of electroactive polymer actuators. At St Andrews he established an independent research laboratory for the preparation and evaluation of functional materials, including supported metal heterogeneous catalysts, solid electron- and ion-conductors and electrocatalysts for SOFCs, and electroactive polymers. Recent funded research projects have examined new high precision methods for SOFC fabrication (EPSRC, IAA) and new anode catalysts for bioethanol SOFCs (Global Challenge-related, with Brazil). He has supervised eight Masters and ten PhD students to completion, as well as nine postdocs. He has acted as 'oversees expert' on three Spanish grants on hydrodechlorination catalysis. Baker has published 70 research articles, reviewed for over ten international journals, made over 25 keynote or invited presentations. He was Editor, Secretary/Treasurer and then Chair of the Electron Microscopy and Analysis Group of the Institute of Physics.

Teaching activity

Dr Richard Baker teaches at all levels from first year undergraduate to MSc and PhD level courses. As well as contributing to undergraduate programmes in Chemistry and Materials Science, he gives a course on Energy Supply and Use on the Sustainable Development degree and contributes to an MSc on Renewable Energy (a collaboration with the University of Dundee) and to PhD-level training as part of the CRITICAT CDT. He teaches courses in physical chemistry, solid state chemistry, materials characterisation, semiconductor science, fuel cell technology, renewable energy, heterogeneous catalysis and electron microscopy.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy

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