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Advanced Materials for Hydrogen Fuel Cells Safety Enhancement under Caustic Operation Conditions (RENU23/EE/MCE/LIU)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Terence Liu, Prof Neil Beattie  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Renewable Energy Northeast Universities (ReNU)is a collaborative doctoral training programme run by the Universities of Northumbria, Newcastle and Durham. In addition to undertaking an individual scientific research project at one of the three partner Universities, doctoral candidates will engage with added value training opportunities, for example in business, innovation and internationalisation through a 4-year training programme that has been designed to maximise the benefits of a cohort approach to doctoral training. The start date is 1st October 2023.

Hydrogen energy, as a kind of efficient and clean energy, can simultaneously alleviate the energy crisis and reduce environmental pollution and has become the focus of global renewable energy development. Hydrogen-powered polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) with the advantages of high chemical to electrical energy conversion efficiency, low operating temperature, and near-zero pollution have been widely researched and developed to be the most suitable power source for electric vehicles (EV), aviation, residential backup power, as well as energy storage applications up to grid-scale.

An intrinsic issue of hydrogen polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) where the inlet gas pressure difference between anode and cathode causes damage to the membrane during caustic operation conditions, especially when they are used for aircraft or submarines. A precautionary method has never been applied to eliminate this phenomenon. Novel membranes with higher mechanical and chemical strength can solve this issue. New PEM membranes will be developed to increase such properties to against any damage caused by pressure attack, load or vibration etc. because of caustic operation conditions. It will also allow pressurised fuel supply which improves mass transfer and overall energy output.

Hydrogen-sensitive coating will be applied on the surface of cathode flow field channels and pressure monitoring electronics will be embedded on the membrane, gas diffusion layer (GDL) and for in-situ pressure, leakage and humidity monitoring, avoiding the need for bulky and expensive externally connected to control and management systems.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Associate Professor Terence Liu. For informal queries, please contact [Email Address Removed]. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions. 

Funding Information

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis (0.6 FTE, stipend £10,600 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities). 

Please also see further advice below of additional costs that may apply to international applicants.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

We have a limited number of International awards available. Note that up to 5 offers of a PhD place will be made for the ReNU CDT projects advertised by Northumbria University.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see  

For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (e.g. RENU23/…).

Deadline for applications: 17 March 2023

Start date of course: 1 October 2023

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our doctoral students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Employer, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers.


Y Wang, et al., Applied Catalysis B: Environmental 305, 121022
Y Wang, et al., Advanced Energy and Sustainability Research 2 (11), 2100083
X Liu, et al., Small Methods 2 (10), 1800138

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