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FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes

Materials development for proton exchange membrane based fuel cells and electrolysers

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, August 31, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Widescale deployment of fuel cell and electrolyser technologies is hindered by high precious metal loadings. This project will develop novel and advanced materials towards reducing and eliminating precious metal usage. The research will include materials synthesis and advanced characterisation techniques for the diagnosis of device activity and stability.

Aims and objectives

Electrolyser and fuel cell technologies represent a pathway for storage of renewable energy, grid-scale balancing, decarbonization of petrochemical and fertilizer industries as well as the transportation sector. However, such proton exchange membrane based electrochemical devices require high loadings of precious metals such as platinum and iridium in various components including catalyst layers, diffusions layers and flow-fields. Uncovering pathways towards the elimination and/or reduced loading of these expensive elements will therefore be the central theme to this research project. Specifically, we will investigate the role of morphology, oxidation state, crystallinity, and composition in controlling the activity and stability of catalyst and support materials.

Advanced catalyst materials will be prepared using a variety of solvothermal, hydrothermal and CVD synthetic methods and characterised using a suite of electrochemical, spectroscopic and microscopy techniques. The synthesised electrocatalysts will be assessed in both 3-electrode (rotating disk electrode) as well as membrane electrode assemblies, enabling the comparison between lab-scale and commercial-scale configurations. All catalysts will be benchmarked against state-of-the-art industrial systems. Beyond catalyst design, emphasis will also be paid to the design and investigation of stable metal oxide supports for electrocatalysts. Throughout this project the quantification and identification of the mode(s) of catalyst corrosion, degradation and failure (chemical, electrochemical dissolution, or delamination) will be studied as a function of catalyst chemistry, activity, applied potential, electrolyte and current density. Such insight will facilitate the design and discovery of more stable catalysts suited for device integration.

Integration of advanced materials into membrane electrode assemblies will be an essential part of the investigation and will require the development of design principles for catalyst ink formulations. Specifically, understanding the interactions of solvent, ionomer and catalyst to generate homogenous distributions as well as the stability of the inks will be investigated. These developed inks will be deposited using various techniques including screen printing and nozzle spray to prepare the catalyst layer. The interrelationship between the ink formulation and the subsequent catalyst layer activity and durability will be investigated and characterised. Understanding these correlations will require advanced analytical techniques such as electron microscopy (SEM/EDX) and elemental analysis (XRF/ICP-OES).

Beyond lab-based activities, the success of this research will require extensive literature searches spanning multiple research fields, i.e. state-of-the-art catalyst materials, synthetic protocols, performance metrics for fuel cells and electrolysers, and knowledge of technoeconomic analysis. Furthermore, dissemination of the research findings via journal articles, reports and conference presentations will also be critical. Thus, a successful candidate should be well organised, curious towards science and engineering, articulate in presentation and writing and willing to engage with the wider scientific community though collaborations and conference travel.

Specific requirements of the project

The candidate is required to have a background in chemistry or a related scientific discipline alongside a keen interest in electrochemistry, material science and sustainable energy technologies. The candidate will need to demonstrate adaptability due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the work, and the capacity to carry out experimental work safely, and with precision. An ability to work as part of a diverse team, to meet deadlines and produce reports and presentations of a high standard to a range of audiences is essential. Applicants will also require initiative, self-motivation, and creativity in their thinking. Good communication and organisation skills, and the ability to critically evaluate their own work, as well as published scientific literature, will also be necessary. Experience of materials synthesis (solid state and/or inorganic), electrochemistry and/or materials characterisation (e.g. SEM, EDX, XPS, XRD, XRF, Raman) will be an advantage, but is not essential.

Funding Notes

Student eligibility

This opportunity is open to UK and EU applicants only. Funding provided covers UK/EU fees, and an annual stipend of £15,009 in line with UKRI

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