FHI researcher wins Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship

February 26, 2021

Ane Etxebarria from the Interface Science Department of the Fritz Haber Institute was awarded a prestigious MSCA Individual Fellowship. Her work will help design better catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) to make future hydrogen production more efficient.

Each year, the European Union supports experienced post-doctoral researchers in their career development by awarding Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). The programme with a "bottom-up" approach allows researchers to work on projects in all research fields while receiving training and supervision to enhance their skills and boost their careers. Since the establishment of the programme in 1996, over 100 000 researchers have received MSCAs.

In the 2020 call, the programme received a record number of applications. Out of 11 573 applications for Individual Fellowships in the fall of 2020, 1 630 were awarded fellowships in February 2021. With finance totalling €328 million, the EU will support the experienced post-doctoral researchers working at top universities and research organisations in Europe and the rest of the world, as well as in the private sector and SMEs. The Fellows supported will work on research projects that tackle global challenges such as climate change, health and migration.

Postdoctoral researcher Ane Etxebarria from the Interface Science Department of the Fritz Haber Institute (FHI) is dedicated to contribute to the fight against climate change through chemistry by improving the tools for hydrogen production. The Spanish researcher was awarded one of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships. Starting on April 1st, the grant covers a two-year research stay at the FHI as well as her costs for moving from Spain to Germany.

Dr. Etxebarria, who has a degree in Chemical Engineering from The University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), has a long-standing interest in hydrogen. In her final year project at UPV/EHU in the department of Chemical Technologies for Environmental Sustainability, she designed a catalyst that could purify a hydrogen flow to use in fuel cells. She then went on to do a PhD in the Surface and Interface group of CIC Energigune, where she studied surface characterization in lithium metal electric batteries using spectroscopic techniques. During her PhD, she also worked at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analysing solid/gas interfaces with advanced spectroscopic techniques.

 “With this background in energy-related materials, spectroscopy and electrochemistry, it was clear to me that the next place I want to work is the Interface Science Department of the Fritz Haber Institute”, says Dr. Etxebarria. “The expertise of Prof. Beatriz Roldán Cuenya’s department in surface science, catalysis, and electrochemistry makes it an ideal venue to conduct my research work. And not least: the department possesses unique technical facilities.”

Dr. Etxebarria will work with the Thin Films group, led by Dr. Kuhlenbeck. She will explore the catalytic activity in the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) of Earth abundant transition metal oxides. In order to do that, she will systematically study the catalytic properties of model catalysts to gain understanding of the active sites involved in the OER, because those active sites are linked to the kinetic limitations of this reaction. “This is an important step towards the reduction of CO2 emissions. Nonetheless, we are fully aware that the current high-energy demand represents a major scientific and technological challenge that involves not only the efficient implementation of large-scale production of hydrogen by water electrolysis, but also ensuring that the catalysts employed are sustainable and long lasting. In my project, I aim to help design more affordable and effective catalysts for OER."

Prof. Beatriz Roldán Cuenya, director of the Department of Interface Science, is delighted that Ane Etxebarria chose to work with her at the FHI. “Dr. Etxebarria is a truly exceptional researcher, who will address very important fundamental questions in the area of electrochemistry with special emphasis in the advancement of the knowledge on the transformations that take place in water splitting catalysts under operando reaction conditions. It is especially fortunate that so many young and talented female scientists are joining this research field at the moment. No doubt this will make for significant improvements in the next few years.”

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