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Marcel Risch

picture: HZB/M. Setzpfandt

Marcel Risch has been group leader of the young investigator group "Oxygen Evolution Mechanism Engineering" at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB) since 2019. He has successfully held an ERC Starting Grant since 2018 and became a Fellow of the Young Academy of Europe in 2020. His current research project is about knowledge-guided development of electrocatalysts using concepts from materials science, physics and chemistry. In this interview, we talk to Marcel Risch about his motivation and his research.


What are you working on right now?

Marcel Risch: Just now I submitted a research proposal on hydrogen production by light. I would be happy if we could implement the project soon. Besides that, we have been writing a review report on our favorite method for some time, namely electrochemistry combined with X-ray absorption spectroscopy. This combination of methods also plays a key role for my ERC Starting Grant ME4OER, which aims to better understand the intermediate steps of the oxygen evolution reaction and then optimize several steps simultaneously. This reaction is a current bottleneck for efficient green hydrogen production. We plan to apply our insights into the oxygen evolution reaction to the electrocatalytic generation of ammonia in the near future. So we're mainly about future and sustainable energy carriers from renewable sources.

What drives you personally?

Marcel Risch: Renewable energies have fascinated me since at least elementary school. I have also always been curious and wanted to know exactly how things work, which drives me today just as it did in the past. That's why I like my job title of scientist so much. I am someone who creates knowledge and it is important to me that it is useful for society. At the latest since I became a father, I also want to contribute to leaving my children a more sustainable world worth living in.

What challenges do you see for yourself in the near future?

Marcel Risch: I see the biggest challenge as continuously presenting and explaining our research to a larger group of lay people. A sustainable energy supply is a too important topic to be pushed back into the background every few years. However, it is not so easy to reserve enough time for it in my daily work routine. For now, I am looking forward to my presentation at the Berlin Science Week. It is also a permanent challenge to reconcile family and science.

What would you wish for your research in the future?

Marcel Risch: I wish that I could continue to implement my ideas on sustainable electrocatalysts in the future. And of course I would like to have an improved BESSY II synchrotron for our favorite method to shorten the waiting time for BESSY III. Otherwise, I would also like to continue my research in interdisciplinary collaborative projects with great diversity. Especially in the interplay between theory and experiment, exciting things happen when both sides approach each other.

Where do you see your discipline in 5-10 years?

Marcel Risch: I expect that the protocols for determining electrocatalytic parameters for activity, stability and selectivity will be harmonized and then standardized in the next decade. In comparison with our colleagues, e.g. from photovoltaics, I am somewhat envious of the reproducibility and comparability of the measurements. I also see that we will overcome the current divide between academic and industrial research, so that the results from laboratory setups will be more meaningful for industrial processes. For this, basic research is explicitly still necessary and important. I think in 5-10 years it will be possible to investigate atomistic intermediate states also on electrocatalysts and thus to design even more targeted electrocatalysts for the energy transition.

ORCID: 0000-0003-2820-7006