Dr. Geoffrey W. Coates
Tisch University Professor & Associate Chair
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Baker Laboratory, Cornell University
Category of Humanitarian Benefit: Environmental Improvement
Short Biography/Background of the Nominee: Geoffrey W. Coates was born in 1966 in Evansville Indiana. He received a B.A. degree in Chemistry from Wabash College in 1989 and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Stanford University in 1994. His thesis work, under the direction of Robert M. Waymouth, investigated the stereoselectivity of metallocene-based Ziegler-Natta catalysts. Following his doctoral studies, he was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow with Robert H. Grubbs at the California Institute of Technology. During the summer of 1997 he joined the faculty of Cornell University as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2001, and to Professor in 2002. He was appointed to the first Tisch University Professorship in 2008.
The research focus of the Coates Group is the development of new catalysts for the synthesis of macromolecules as well as small molecules. Professor Coates’ research concentrates on developing new methods for reacting commodity feedstocks in unprecedented ways. His current research centers on the development of homogeneous catalysts for olefin polymerization, heterocycle carbonylation, epoxide homo- and copolymerization, and the utilization of carbon dioxide in polymer synthesis.
Professor Coates is an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, and has received awards from the ACS (A. C. Cope Scholar Award, Affordable Green Chemistry Award, A. K. Doolittle Award, Carl S. Marvel Creative Polymer Chemistry Award, and Akron Section Award), NSF (CAREER), MIT Technology Review Magazine (TR 100 Award), Research Corporation (Innovation Award), Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation (Young Investigator Award), David and Lucile Packard Foundation (Fellowship in Science and Engineering), and Dreyfus Foundation (Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty and Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards). In 2006, he received the Stephen and Margery Russell Distinguished Teaching Award at Cornell University and became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2011 he was identified by Thomson Reuters as one of the world’s top 100 chemists on the basis of the impact of his scientific research, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award and the DSM Performance Materials Award in 2012. In 2015, he received the ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science, and received the Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success from the ACS in 2016. In 2017, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
He is the scientific cofounder of Novomer and Ecolectro, and is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of KensaGroup. He is a member of the Editorial Advisory Boards of the Journal of Polymer Science, Chemical Reviews, ChemCatChem, Dalton Transactions, Advanced Synthesis and Catalysis, Advances in Polymer Science and Organic Chemistry Frontiers. He is an Associate Editor of Macromolecules.
Project Name and Description: Energy Advancements in Fuel Cells and Batteries.
1. Fuel Cells
Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that efficiently produce energy, offering advantages such as low emissions and high power density. Currently, most commercially available systems employ proton exchange membranes (PEMs) as electrolytes and operate under acidic conditions. However, these systems suffer from sluggish reduction kinetics and require costly platinum as an electrode material, which limits widespread use of PEM-based fuel cells. To bypass the obstacles associated with PEMs, research interest has recently focused on alkaline fuel cells (AFCs) that utilize anion exchange membranes (AEMs). This approach avoids the use of precious metals and would make devices more affordable, but the development of efficient alkaline AEMs remains a major challenge.
To date, our group has designed polyelectrolyte membranes for AFCs that exhibit competitive properties with other materials in the field. We take advantage of the functional group tolerance of Grubbs’ 2nd generation catalyst for ring-opening metathesis polymerizations (ROMP) of functionalized monomers. This approach provides well-defined polymers containing cationic moieties without the need for post- polymerization modification. At the same time, our group has explored small molecule cationic moieties and developed a family of imidazolium based cations that do not degrade even under the harshest basic conditions. These cations are promising for incorporation into polymers to prepare AEMs with superior base stability.
The development of lithium ion batteries (LIBs) has revolutionized portable devices and electric vehicles. Currently, commercial LIBs utilize organic solvents as the electrolyte. However, these flammable liquids raise great safety concerns if the battery is accidently ruptured or if internal thermal runaway happens. Polymer electrolytes are viewed as safer alternatives to liquid electrolytes. However, the most widely used polymer electrolyte – polyethylene oxide (PEO) –suffers from low conductivity at ambient temperature. Increasing the room temperature conductivities of polymer electrolytes has attracted the interest of many researchers. Additionally, next generation high energy lithium batteries require pure lithium metal as the anode material. Lithium metal has been known to have a problem with dendrite growth, which shortens the lifetime of the battery. Various methods have been evaluated for Li dendrite suppression but this problem remains largely unsolved.
Our group has designed a family of cross-linked hydrocarbon/poly(ethylene oxide) polymer electrolytes that not only have high room temperature conductivity but also suppress Li dendrites significantly. We further elucidated how the dendrite growth is influenced by macromolecular composition. This new family of polymer electrolytes is promising for use in lithium metal batteries. We also prepared polymer electrolytes with polyesters synthesized in our group and explored how lithium ions are transported in these polymers with the help of computational chemists. This collaboration gives us insights into how polymer structure affects the lithium conduction and opens up a significant new design space for polymer electrolytes. We have also investigated organic cathode materials.
Humanitarian Benefit : Energy storage is a critical enabling technology in the transition from fossil to renewable energy.