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Xie Yi’s Group from USTC Leads the Top 10 Scientific Achievements of 2016

Ministry of Science and Technology of China announced the 10 major scientific and technological developments of 2016 on February 20, 2017. National academician Xie Yi and her group from USTC topped the list with a new cobalt-based catalyst for efficient carbon dioxide electro-reduction to liquid fuel.

Deep into the New Findings on Efficient CO2  Electro-reduction to Liquid Fuel

With environmental protection more urgent, the demand for clean energy grows stronger and stronger. Alongside investigation into hydrogen production from water electrolysis, chemists like Prof. Xie Yi are searching for a new way out by efficient COelectro-reduction to liquid fuel under normal temperature and pressure, which will also massively reduce the emission of CO2.


(Image by XIE Yi and SUN Yongfu)

The bottleneck came down to the impractically high overpotential needed for the transition from CO2 to its radical anions or other intermediates, thus a most effective catalyst is crucial. Reports have showed metals acquired from reduction of metal oxides performs better catalytic activity than those from other methods, but why? To access how different catalytic sites of metal and its oxide work, research group led by Prof. Xie Yi and Prof. Sun yongfu fabricated two kinds of four-atom-thick layers: pure cobalt metal, and co-existing domains of cobalt metal and cobalt oxide, and found surface cobalt atoms of the atomically thin layers with higher intrinsic activity and selectivity towards formate production at lower overpotentials than the other.

Furthermore, Partial oxidation of the atomic layers further increases their intrinsic activity, allowing stable current densities of about 10 mA /cmover 40 hours, with approximately 90% formate selectivity at an overpotential of only 0.24 V, which outperforms previously reported metal or metal oxide electrodes evaluated under comparable conditions. The correct morphology and oxidation state can thus transform a material from one considered nearly non-catalytic for the COelectro-reduction reaction into an active catalyst.

These findings point to new opportunities for manipulating and improving the COelectro-reduction properties of metal systems, especially once the influence of both the atomic-scale structure and the presence of oxide are mechanistically better understood. As Karthish Manthiram, a chemical engineer from CIT comments, “It is a breakthrough in fundamental sciences. Though there’s still a long way to go before commercial use, it provides positive insights from every aspect for the future.”


Two Major Accomplishers—Xie Yi and Sun Yongfu


(Image by The L'oreal foundation)

Prof. Xie, also a Chinese academician, works in School of Chemistry and Materials Science, USTC and Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences and the Microscale. Up to now she is the corresponding author of over 300 SCI papers including 1 Nature, 7 Nature Commun., 25 J. Am. Chem., 20 Soc. Angew. Chem. and 18 Adv. Mater.. Major professional accomplishments including follows:

1998 Young-Outstanding Scientist Prize from Chinese Academy of Sciences

2003 Chinese Academy of Sciences-Bayer Young Scientist Award

2012 Natural Science Award (Second class), China (Ranking 1st)

2013 IUPAC Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering Award

2014 TWAS Prize in Chemistry

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards

2015.11-present TWAS member

Prof. Xie and her group are pursuing cutting-edge research at four major frontiers, namely nanotechnology, materials chemistry, energy science and theoretical physics. In particular, her research focuses on the preparation and assembly of inorganic functional nanomaterials and nanostructures. Recently her group started to move into the novel intelligent energy-saving fields by designing and preparation of nanohier architectures of inorganic phase change materials, aiming to the enhancement of temperature-induced smart switch in heat storage/release or infrared regulation.

Now she is undertaking the National Basic Research Program of China (No. 2009CB939901), National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 11079004, 90922016, 10979047), and innovation project of Chinese Academy of Science (KJCX2-YW-H2O).


(Image by SUN Yongfu)

Select Professor Sun Yongfu, also a Ph.D. supervisor from USTC, has been dedicated to chemical preparation of inorganic low dimensional solid materials, characterization of fine structure / defect structure / electronic structure and its clear structure - activity relationship. Concerning results are published in over 40 SCI papers including 1 Nature, 4 Nature Commun., 3 J. Am. Chem., 2 Chem. Soc. Rev., 7 Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., with 5 papers chosen as cover, 6 papers chosen as hot articles or VIP papers. Some entered major accomplishments of CAS Large Research Infrastructures of 2012.

Major professional accomplishments of Prof. Sun includes:

2013 Program for New Century Excellent Talents, Ministry of Education, PR China

2014 National Natural Science Foundation--Outstanding Youth Foundation

2015 Member of Youth Innovation Promotion Association, CAS

2015 Lu Jiaxi Young Talen Award, CAS

2016 Chinese Chemical Society Award for Outstanding Young Chemist

2016 Nano Chemical for New Talents Award

2016 The Young Cheung Kong Scholar, Ministry of Education, PR China


About Top 10 Scientific Achievements of China

The selection has been organized by the High-Tech Research and Development Center under the Ministry of Science and Technology since 2005. It aims to motivate Chinese scientific workers and promote science popularization.

The process is divided into commendation, primary selection and final selection. Every Year more than 2,000 experts and academicians, many from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, selected the 10 developments from a total of 278 research results published between December 1, 2015 and November 30, 2016.

Top 10 Scientific Achievements of 2016

A new cobalt-based catalyst for efficient carbon dioxide electro-reduction to liquid fuel;

New shortcut for Olefins production from coal;

Reveal of the molecular genetic mechanism of heterosis of rice yield traits;

A new method of tumor immunotherapy based on cholesterol metabolism;

Reveal of the key molecular mechanism of RNA splicing;

Findings that RNA of a sperm could be used as a memory carrier for inherited traits of intergenerational inheritance;

Establishment of the first stable and controllable single-molecule electronic switching devices;

Establishment of the world's first non-human primate autism model;

Reveal of the epigenetic mechanism of the critical signal pathway during embryonic development;

Reveal of the nuclear quantum effect of water.


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