Reactions: Juan Herranz

Juan Herranz is in the Department of Technical Electrochemistry at the Technical University of Munich, and works on the development of catalysts for electrochemical energy storage and conversion devices, like fuel cells and metal-air batteries.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

During my teenage years I had multiple interests but no vocational passion for one particular subject, and decided to give chemical engineering a try without knowing too well whether I would really like it – as time would prove, though, it ended up being a very good choice. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry labs included in the program, so when the time came to choose a topic for my Master’s thesis I decided to take a break from the engineering side of things and have some fun doing research into new materials for fuel cells – which ultimately led me to the field of electrochemistry.

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

Alike many people, I would have loved to work on something related to my various hobbies; record collecting and anything related with food are at the top of my list and, while I still struggle with my writing, it’s also becoming an increasingly fulfilling process. So I can very well imagine myself working as a food- and/or music-critic for the written press. I mean, who wouldn’t love to get paid for listening to music or tasting food?

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

At the moment I am mostly involved with two research projects. In the first one we’re trying to better understand the kinetics of hydrogen-oxidation and evolution in alkaline medium while developing better electrocatalysts for these reactions. Hopefully, these improved materials will allow for the development of alkaline membrane fuel cells and electrolyzers with ultra-low noble-metal loadings or even completely free of noble metal, therefore facilitating the commercialization of these devices.

The second project deals with the fundamental understanding of the electrochemistry of oxygen in aprotic media; ultimately, I hope that it will help to elucidate the intricate chemistry of non-aqueous metal-air batteries and also bring them a bit closer to their commercial application.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

I am not a big fan of bibliographies, but I recently read one about Joseph Fouché and found the character truly fascinating, if also morally regrettable (to say the very least). In any case, sharing his memories of the French Revolution and the times of Napoleon and Louis XVIII should make for a very interesting dinner!

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

Just today I performed some voltammetric measurements to determine the oxygen-reduction and H2O2-oxidation activities of various manganese-oxide phases in aqueous, alkaline media. Mn-oxides are becoming increasingly popular as O2-reduction and -evolution catalysts for lithium-air batteries and alkaline fuel cells and electrolyzers, and we are trying to determine whether their behaviours in aqueous and aprotic media are somehow correlated.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

Mmm, that’s a tough one considering my love for books and records! This being said, I would take Roberto Bolaño’s massive 2666 and Converge’s Jane Doe, which I’m still listening to on a regular basis after all these years.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

I would like to continue reading interviews with young, up-and-coming chemists and researchers, because these are the future professors, team leaders and managers of our academic institutions and companies and their opinions don’t always get the attention they deserve.