Nature-inspired electrocatalysts and devices for energy conversion†
The main obstacles toward further commercialization of electrochemical devices are the development of highly efficient, cost-effective and robust electrocatalysts, and the suitable integration of those catalysts within devices that optimally translate catalytic performance at the nanoscale to practically relevant length and time scales. Over the last decades, advancements in manufacturing technology, computational tools, and synthesis techniques have led to a range of sophisticated electrocatalysts, mostly based on expensive platinum group metals. To further improve their design, and to reduce overall cost, inspiration can be derived from nature on multiple levels, considering nature's efficient, hierarchical structures that are intrinsically scaling, as well as biological catalysts that catalyze the same reactions as in electrochemical devices. In this review, we introduce the concept of nature-inspired chemical engineering (NICE), contrasting it to the narrow sense in which biomimetics is often applied, namely copying isolated features of biological organisms irrespective of the different context. In contrast, NICE provides a systematic design methodology to solve engineering problems, based on the fundamental understanding of mechanisms that underpin desired properties, but also adapting them to the context of engineering applications. The scope of the NICE approach is demonstrated via this comparative state-of-the-art review, providing examples of bio-inspired electrocatalysts for key energy conversion reactions and nature-inspired electrochemical devices.