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The overarching goal of our group is to understand and control how materials behave in electrochemical environments.  Please explore our site and learn more about our research and areas of study below.



In this project, our team focuses on understanding the conversion of four strategic  building block molecules – methane, carbon dioxide, ethanol and acetic acid – through partial oxidations to methanol, ethylene, and synthesis gas on select metal and oxide surfaces.  We are unraveling the mechanistic pathways and the reaction dynamics of these two reactions with temperature, pressure and pH – meanwhile discovering the structure of reaction intermediates, quantifying reaction energetics and barriers, and controlling catalyst geometry.  This work has the potential for high impact because it will discover new catalysts and pathways that drive chemical transformations through direct electron transfer, as opposed to the temperature-guided pathways widely in use today.  Not only are electronic reaction pathways immune to the thermodynamic limitations of thermochemical cycles, meaning that they can be intrinsically higher in overall efficiency (i.e. fuel cells vs. internal combustion engines), but they also allow for more direct pairings with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.  In the future, strategies like the ones embodied in this work will provide a low cost pathway for completely CO2-free production of chemicals and fuels, something that is almost inconceivable currently. 


Electrochemical energy conversion devices – fuel cells and electrolyzers – have the potential to provide clean, sustainable energy for grid and transportation applications in the 21st century and beyond.  In order to support the widespread adoption and commercialization of these devices, our focus is to increase cell performance and stability while reducing costs.  Our activities include: design and synthesis of novel electrocatalysts, electrode integration and optimization, characterizing behavior with in-situ and operando approaches, and creating new cell conformations and geometries.  We envision that the lessons learned in this work will also provide transformational insights to other electrochemical devices for energy, water purification and healthcare including dialyzers, flow batteries, and CO2 capture.


Modern society has a need (and growing thirst) for large amounts of electrical energy on-demand – and everywhere.  We rely on our mobile devices more and more every day, and ask for them to be more than just a phone – they navigate our travels, keep us connected with our friends and families, and are increasingly sources to digest media and entertainment.   In automotive applications, electrification of passenger vehicles will help reduce the total amount of energy required to travel as well as alleviate air pollution, especially in urban areas.  For military applications, electrification means low noise power and extended mission life for soldiers and autonomous vehicles.  Batteries are also ubiquitous in personal use and medical applications such as hearing aids, toys, flashlights and power tools.  All of these applications require relatively large amounts of reliable power.  Our projects focus on new materials and cell geometries that enable increased energy density and stability.  In practical terms, these relate to increased operational times, reduced weight and longer life – both on the shelf and while in use.


Professor William E. Mustain

Department of Chemical Engineering
Swearingen Engineering Center
University of South Carolina
301 Main St.
Columbia, SC 29208


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