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Hydrogen vehicles with lower cost & enhanced durability – a road to zero (Advert Reference: RDF22-R/EE/MCE/XING)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Lu Xing  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

In 2018, the UK government released its strategy in a report entitled «The road to zero» presenting new measures to clean up road transport and lead the world in developing, manufacturing, and using zero-emission road vehicles. In June 2019, an Act of Parliament required that, by 2050, the country's net emissions of greenhouse gases be reduced by 100% relative to 1990 levels. Transport is the second largest contributor of GHG (after electricity and heat production); developing hydrogen in Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) is a promising avenue to meet that requirement.

FCEV is an electric vehicle that uses a proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) with a small battery to power its on-board electric motor. The PEMFC converts the chemical energy of hydrogen fuel into electricity, heat, and water without any carbon emissions. However, durability and cost factors remain the significant barriers to fuel cell (FC) commercialization. More fundamental research is then needed to overcome these barriers. Issues such as new material development and water and heat management remain the focus of fuel-cell performance improvement and therefore cost reduction.

This project aims to develop a low-cost, high-energy-density, high-energy conversion efficiency high-temperature PEMFC stack for the FCEV, based on a single cell's novel electrolyte and catalyst materials.

The candidate will investigate and identify alternative electrolyte materials with high ionic conductivity, mechanical strength, and chemical stability. The candidate will characterize and select novel catalysts with lower cost and reduction in Pt-loading. This project will need modelling to investigate the thermofluid dynamics and degradation mechanisms of a single cell and PEMFC stack and an experimental study of a small lab-scale prototype to validate the stack heat and mass transfer behaviour, stability, and durability. Potential benefits for FCEV, e.g., cost reduction, enhanced durability, and environmental impact, will be evaluated through techno-economic-environmental analysis.

The successful candidate will work in a multidisciplinary environment, including materials science, heat transfer, modelling, and system integration assessment. We are looking for a passionate candidate with a mechanical/design/chemical engineering background, self-motivation and self-direction, teamwork spirit, and communication skills.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr Lu Xing.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • 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 currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

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

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22-R/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 20 June 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes:

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £16,602 per year) and full tuition fees. Only UK candidates may apply.

Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,961 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.

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.


1. 'Thermal analysis and management of proton exchange membrane fuel cell stacks for automotive vehicle', International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 2021,
2. 'A breakthrough hydrogen and oxygen utilization in a H2-O2 PEMFC stack with dead-ended anode and cathode', Energy Conversion and Management, 2021,
3. 'Load changing characteristics of the hydrogen‐air and hydrogen‐oxygen proton exchange membrane fuel cells', International Journal of Energy Research, 2021,
4. 'Research on low-carbon campus based on ecological footprint evaluation and machine learning: A case study in China', Journal of Cleaner Production, 2021,
5. Book Chapter - ’2D Inorganic Nanomaterials for Conductive Polymer Nanocomposites’, in the book of ‘Two-dimensional Inorganic Nanomaterials for Conductive Polymer Nanocomposites (Inorganic Materials Series)’, Feb 2021, RSC publication.
6. 'Amino Acid-Induced Interface Charge Engineering Enables Highly Reversible Zn Anode', Advanced Functional Materials, 2021, DOI:10.1002/adfm.202103514
7. 'Ultrastretchable, highly transparent, self-adhesive, and 3D-printable ionic hydrogel for multimode tactical sensing', Chemistry of Materials,2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.1c01246
8. 'Fibre Surface/Interfacial Engineering on Wearable Electronics', Small, 2021, DOI: 10.1002/smll.202102903
9. Dendrite-free zinc anode enabled by zinc-chelating chemistry, Energy Storage Materials,2021,
10. 'Porous Bilayer Electrode Guided Gas Diffusion for Enhanced CO2 Electrochemical Reduction', Advanced Energy and Sustainability Research, 2021,
11. 'Conversion-Alloying Anode Materials for Sodium Ion Batteries', Small, 2021,
12. 'Interface Engineering of Air Electrocatalysts for Rechargeable Zinc-Air Batteries', Advanced Energy Materials, 2021,
13. 'Ultraelastic Yarns from Curcumin-assisted ELD towards Wearable Human-Machine Interface Textiles', Advanced Science, 2021,
14. 'A Robust, Highly Reversible, Mixed Conducting Sodium Metal Anode', Science Bulletin. 2021,
15. 'A Flexible Topo-optical Sensing Technology with Ultra-high Contrast', Nature Communications, 2020, vol. 11, 1448.

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