Advanced technology at nanoscale

Development of new materials for fuel cells and solar cells:

IA) Catalysis of fuel cell feed gas purification and hydrogen storage

The main objective is improvement of the performance of polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC) by purification of hydrogen feed gas. This will be achieved by the selective removal of the CO from hydrogen fuel gas through catalytic methanation, minimizing poisoning of the fuel cell. The idea is to increase the efficiency of this process by improvement of ruthenium metal particle catalysts via particle size control in the sub-nanometer range. Fuel cell technology together with the hydrogen fuel technology, has called superior international attention due to numerous applications (fuel cell powered cars, hydrogen powered cars and small scale residential applications). Therefore, hydrogen feed gas purification due to its significance is at the heart of an international competition.

Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 53 5467-5471 (2014)

Our joint theoretical and experimental achievements untill now revealed the Origin of the Selectivity and Acitivity of Ru Cluster Catalysts for Fuel Cell Feed Gas Purificiation as shown on the right side of the Fig. Since it is imperative to selectively remove carbon monoxide to prevent fuel cell catalyst degradation we found that small ruthenium nanoclusters are highly effective in doing so by converting CO to benign CH4. We identified the fundamental properties of these clusters including their outstanding selectivity and catalytic activity in the CO methanation reaction. The promissing results are good starting point for this project in which system from gas phase will be transformed in zeolites in order to propose new catalysts which will elongate duration of fuel cells.

Cooperation: Scientists involved in the research are VBK (ICAST, UNIST), prof. T. Bernhardt and prof. J. Behm (University of Ulm) with their theoretical and experimental groups. For the realization of the project young researchers and equipment for the Croatian research groups are needed.
Commercialization: The new catalyst will be tested and prepared for production in the firm Haldor Topsoe, Denmark, a world leader in catalysis and surface science.

IB) Design of new catalytic materials for low temperature fuel cells

The idea is to design new materials and structures by nanoscale modeling that would improve thermal conductivity of the catalyst layer (particularly in lateral direction) and thus prolong the fuel cell durability. In this project we will design and operate a Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell with ambient air without external humidification using water and heat produced inside the fuel cell. In order to realise this concept the water transfer across the polymer membrane, i.e., its magnitude and net direction will be achieved. Particularly, thermodynamics of water absorption and desorption and phase change at the polymer membrane surface will be studied as these phenomena are usually neglected in current models. Significance of low temperature fuel cells, particularly polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), is in their versatile potential applications, such as power electronics, portable power generation, stationary power generation and cogeneration, but first of all in transportation.
Cooperation: The aim of this project will be achieved trough cooperation between experimental and theoretical groups of prof F. Barbir (FESB, UNIST), prof. Vlasta Bonačić Koutecký (ICAST, UNIST) and prof. Ante Bilušić (PMF, UNIST). For the realization of the project young researchers and equipment for the Croatian research groups are needed.

Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs)

Commercialization: As this project aims at improving one of the key aspects of fuel cell catalyst, i.e., its durability, there will be a great potential for commercialization of its results. Cooperating with one of the industrial leaders in nanostructured catalyst layer development, such as 3M, would provide a direct pathway for commercialization of the projects finding.

IC) Design of fuel cells and electrolyzers

Our idea is to apply the concept of spatially variable heat removal rate, which establishes a temperature profile along the cathode channel allowing the product water to humidify the air flowing through the cathode up to 100% relative humidity. We propose to further investigate this promising concept at various current densities, variety of ambient conditions, different membrane thicknesses, and different flow configurations. Operation with dry gases, if possible, would eliminate the need for the devices required for external humidification, and therefore would result in simplification of the fuel cell system which is of significant importance for applications.

Experimental set-up at FESB. Segmented fuel cell for investigation of a temperature profile required for

Fuel cell vehicle (Yamaha ATV) developed/converted at FESB

Cooperation: The aim of this project will be achieved through cooperation between prof. F.Barbir, prof. G. Radica, prof. G. Magazinović, prof. emeritus J. Radošević (FESB, UNIST) as well as with prof. A. Bilušić and prof. P. Županović (PMF, UNIST). Additional cooperation is planned with prof. T. Berning from University of Aalborg, Denmark who will assist in modeling the overall water flow through the membrane and dr. Attila Husar of the Institute of the industrial robotics, Politechnic University of Catalonia, Spain who will help us with the experimental set-up and modeling, particularly in connection with outdoor conditions and durability testing. For the realization of the project young researchers and equipment for the Croatian research groups are needed.


Commercialization: As the proposed R&D is original, some of the expected outcomes – a new design and/or new control strategy – may be patentable. Until now, there are no companies working on fuel cell development or manufacturing in Croatia. Nevertheless, the potential for development of spin-off firms from this project in Croatia is envisaged.

ID) New materials for hybrid organic-inorganic solar cells

The idea of this project is to design, prepare and characterize new organic-inorganic hybrid materials based on porphene first heterocyclic analogue to graphene with unique optical properties which match absorption maximum of the sunlight, capture photons and convert them efficiently into spatially separated charges which will be converted into an external circuit by electrodes. This concept offer the foundation for new generation of solar cells with increasing conversion efficiency and decreasing costs.

New 2D poymers (Fused sheets)

Donor-Acceptor Ligands on Porphene

First results: Preparation of 2D sheets of porphene have been almost acomplished and simulation of its absorbtion properties provided promissing results for the future investigation of the influence of donor-acceptor ligands on charge separation and its application for solar cells. 


Cooperation: The aim of this project will be achieved trough cooperation between theoretical and experimental groups of prof. Vlasta Bonačić-Koutecký (ICAST, UNIST), prof. R. Mitrić at the University of Würzburg, prof. Ante Bilušić (PMF, UNIST) and prof. J. Michl (Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry ASCR, Prague; University of Colorado Boulder) who will provide synthesized 2D porphenes. For the realization of the project young researchers and equipment for the Croatian research groups are needed.


Design of novel nanostructured biosensing materials and their application in medical diagnostics and biomedicine


IF) Application of new nanostructured materials in medical diagnostics

The idea is to use liganded noble metal clusters with remarkable light absorption and emission properties as shown bellow as well as new label-free sensors developed in project 3. (A) for quantification of protein carbonylation in vitro and in vivo, thus providing a new approach to the accurate measurement of biological aging. Furthermore, we aim to determine conformational changes that lead to an increased oxidation resistance in proteins. For this purpose we will develop an experimental approach for the mass spectrometry detection of the position of the oxidative modification (carbonylation). We will apply this approach for the detection of the oxidation sensitive sites on proteins. A set of model proteins, varying in fold and their intrinsic structural stability will be subjected to mild oxidation and labelling with fluorescent dyes and/or metal nanoclusters. Moreover, obesity-associated inflammation is becoming a concern in our burgeoning population of aged and obese people, thus disease-modifying interventions rather than symptomatic therapies are needed. Therefore, our idea is to use linear and non linear optical processes in liganded noble metal cluster as well as new label-free sensors for the easy, reproducible and sensitive quantification of inflammatory markers which can be exploited to monitor not only pathogen and sterile inflammation but also neurodegenerative disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) associated with aging. The significance of new approach proposed herein is to advance the performance limits of biosensors delivering a clear path forwards to new solution to protein damage detection and protein screening.

Structural and optical properties of ultrasmall silver liganded clusters
[Ag15(SG)11] which show a bright and photostable emission for biosensing.

Two-photon absorption of ligand-protected Ag15 nanoclusters. Towards a new class of nonlinear optics nanomaterials
PCCP, 216, 18, 12404-12408

Cooperation: Scientists involved in the research are Dr. Ph. Dugourd, University of Lyon (UCBL), prof. M. Radman, dr. A. Kriško (MedILS), VBK (ICAST, UNIST) and prof. D. Maysinger (McGill University) with their experimental and theoretical groups. In addition, the project will benefit from ongoing French-Croatian project “International Laboratory for Nano Clusters and Biological Aging, LIA NCBA”, in which V.B.K. and Miroslav Radman closely collaborate with UCBL. Newly established collaboration between McUM and UCBL will also contribute to the realization of this project. For the realization of the project young researchers and equipment for the Croatian research groups are needed.
Commercialization: This project has a great potential for patents and commercialization of the results. The potential of development of spin-off firms from this project in Croatia is envisaged.

IG) Design of new nanostructured materials in neuro-electronic interfaces for biomedical application

Fundamental research is focused on identifying and understanding neural correlates of hearing and speech perception in cochlear implant (CI) users. CI is by far the most successful neuroprosthetic device allowing partial restoration of hearing in deaf people. We use pyschoacoustics combined with high density 128-channel evoked potential system located in the sound-proof chamber with ISO-8253.2 certificate. Applied research focuses on development of innovative neuro-electronic interface based on silicon and CMOS technology to be tested as a model for new generation of CI and other neuroprosthetic devices addressing their current serious limitations of non-focal and non-selective neural stimulation. The main concept of our approach is based on the efficient interfacing of auditory neurons (from the auditory nerve and cochlear nucleus), cultured in-vitro with the micro-patterned, high-density CMOS-based substrates with cellular-sized electrodes in order to achieve precise single-neuron electrical stimulation with neuro-monitoring capabilities.

Immunocitochemical image of the spiral ganglion cell (primary auditory neuron) cultured in-vitro on top of the silicon-based substrate with embedded high-density micropillars.

SEM image of small neural network of spiral ganglion neurons cultured in-vitro on top of CMOS-based high-density electrode array. 

Cooperation: The main part of research described above will be performed by the group of dr. Damir Kovačić (PMF, UNIST). Prof. dr. Slaven Garaj, head of Nano/Bio Physics Laboratory at the Centre for Advanced 2D Materials, National University of Singapure (NUS), will be involved in this part of research. Within STIM, there is a cooperation with prof. Bonačić-Koutecky related to activities which will be performed in ID.

Commercialization: Results of this activity have strong potential for technology transfer, commercialization of results, as well as starting spin-off firms in Croatia.