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Next generation nanomaterials for high performance fuel cell electrodes

   Department of Mechanical Engineering

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  Dr Adam Squires  Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project will harness new topology electrode nanomaterials developed in our laboratory, for applications in fuel cells used in transportation. Their unique nanostructures give enhanced reactivity and stability compared with nanoparticles currently used. The technology is “platform agnostic” in terms of fuel, with properties and reactions common to a range of fuel cells. This project will explore their use in fuel cell reactions and devices, bridging the gap from preliminary data to real world applications and commercialisation.

Electric Vehicles are key to reducing carbon emissions. While rechargeable batteries are likely to be the main technology for cars, there are long-distance applications (boats, planes, lorries, trains) for which the energy density by weight of batteries is too low, and alternatives are required. Fuel cells overcome this problem. In a fuel cell, electricity is generated by an electrochemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen. Powering vehicles in this way uses 50% less fuel than a combustion engine, and the energy density of typical fuels is tens of times greater than that of lithium ion batteries, whether by weight or volume. [1,2] However, wider commercialisation of fuel cells is currently limited by catalyst performance, cost and stability.

Our team has recently developed a route to new nanostructure topologies for high performance electrodes in fuel cells. The process is green, mild, and industrially scalable, and can be used to grow a range of different metals. The electrodes comprise 3D nanowire networks, which give ultra-high surface areas; high stability, avoiding the use of nanoparticles, which present a major limitation on current device lifetimes; and high reactivity.  The technology has been adopted widely, and superior reactivity and stability have been demonstrated in the oxidation of alcohols, glycerol [3] and formic acid [4]. 

Our electrode materials are “platform agnostic” in terms of fuel. There are potential advantages and disadvantages to each of hydrogen, alcohol, and formic acid, and future adoption depends on advances in green methods of production – respectively through water electrolysis, biofuel, and CO2 reduction. Underpinning all of these fuel cell types is the counterpart oxygen reduction reaction, for which superior activity and stability have also been reported for electrode materials similar to ours.[5] Whichever technology wins out, our materials can therefore play a part.

This project will extend the previous work in three directions:

  1. New reactions: characterise our materials’ performance towards the hydrogen oxidation and oxygen reduction reactions
  2. New devices: incorporate our electrode materials into membrane electrode assemblies and evaluate their performance in fuel cells acting under “real” conditions
  3. New metals: our method has so far been applied to platinum and palladium.

This project is offered as part of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (AAPS CDT).  The Centre is inspiring and working with the next generation of leaders to pioneer and shape the transition to clean, sustainable, affordable mobility for all. 

Prospective students for this project will be applying for the CDT programme which integrates a one-year MRes with a three to four-year PhD  

AAPS is a remarkable hybrid think-and-do tank where disciplines connect and collide to explore new ways of moving people. The MRes year is conducted as an interdisciplinary cohort with a focus on systems thinking, team-working and research skills. On successful completion of the MRes, you will progress to the PhD phase where you will establish detailed knowledge in your chosen area of research alongside colleagues working across a broad spectrum of challenges facing the Industry.  

The AAPS community is both stretching and supportive, encouraging our students to explore their research in a challenging but highly collaborative way. You will be able to work with peers from a diverse background, academics with real world experience and a broad spectrum of industry partners. 

Throughout your time with AAPS you will benefit from our training activities such mentoring future cohorts and participation in centre activities such as masterclasses, research seminars, think tanks and guest lectures. 

All new students joining the CDT will be assigned student mentor and a minimum of 2 academic supervisors at the point of starting their PhD. 

Funding is available for four-years (full time equivalent) for Home students. 

See our website to apply and find more details about our unique training programme (  

Funding Notes

AAPS CDT studentships are available on a competition basis for UK students for up to 4 years. Funding will cover UK tuition fees as well as providing maintenance at the UKRI doctoral stipend rate (£17,668 per annum for 2022/23 rate) and a training support fee of £1,000 per annum.


[1]; [2]
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