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Transition Metal Oxide Catalysts for Anion Exchange Membrane Water Electrolysers (AEMWE)


   Department of Engineering

   Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

A full PhD studentship (3.5-year stipend at UKRI rates, £16,062 in year one, and tuition fees at UK rate) is offered at the Department of Engineering, Lancaster University, UK to undertake research in developing new catalyst materials for use in Anion exchange membrane water electrolysers.

The UK government has set a target of net zero greenhouse gases to be achieved by 2050 and have proposed a ten-point plan to achieve this by using various techniques simultaneously rather than focusing on a single solution. The UK government has set a target to deliver 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 whilst halving emissions from oil and gas as point-2 in the plan [1, 2]. One of the solutions which can contribute to this net zero target is the use of electrolyser to generate hydrogen which can then be used as fuel. Electricity storage in the form of hydrogen (H2) has several advantages including: highly efficient conversion between H2 & electricity and good energy density in comparison to most batteries. However, at present most of the hydrogen is produced through steam reforming which further contributes to carbon content and only 5-10% of the total hydrogen is produced through electrolysis due to the high cost of electrolyser systems & the electrical energy [2-4].

Almost, 50% of the polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolyser (PEMWE) system cost comes from the precious metal catalyst (Pt, Ru, Pd) that are essential for carrying out the hydrogen evolution and oxygen evolution reactions in the acidic environment. AEMWE system can significantly lower these costs as these don’t require precious metal catalysts and can instead use transition metal oxide catalysts that are much cheaper. Recent research has shown that using non-precious metal oxide catalyst, different shapes of catalysts like nanowires, nanotubes, nanorods and also careful substitution of A site of the perovskite oxides can result in the improvement of the oxygen evolution reaction which is the sluggish reaction in the system[3-5]. However, significant improvement in performance and lifetime is required for AEMWE to be economically viable for commercial applications.

The main objective of the PhD studentship will be to achieve a performance of 1A cm-2 at a cell voltage of 1.75V in the temperature range of 30-80 °C and pH range from 7-11 without the use of precious metal catalysts. This will be done by an extensive literature review in order to select various transition metal oxides based on a set criterion (cost, availability, synthesis methods, scalability etc.). These catalysts will then be synthesised, characterised using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and then electrochemically tested in 3-electode setup as well as in AEMWE. The PhD student will work closely with researchers at Materials Science Institute and Energy Lancaster.  

References:

1.          BEIS, Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener, Oct 2021, UK Goverment

2.          BEIS, UK Hydrogen Strategy, Aug 2021, UK Goverment

3.          Gupta, G., et al., Journal of Power Sources, 2020. 461: p. 228131.

4.          Gupta, G., K. Scott, and M. Mamlouk, Journal of Power Sources, 2018. 375: p. 387.

5.          Ward, S., et al., Sustainable Energy & Fuels, 2021. 5(1): p. 154.

About the University/Department

Lancaster University (THE world ranking 122, QS 132) is a strong and dynamic university with a very highly regarded Engineering Department. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, 91% of research quality and 100% of impact was assessed as being internationally excellent and world-leading. Lancaster’s approach to interdisciplinary collaboration means that it has pre-eminent capacity and capability for the integration of Engineering with expertise in the areas of data science, autonomous and learning systems, intelligent automation, materials science and cyber security.

Qualifications and experience

Candidates should have a relevant degree at 2.1 minimum or an equivalent overseas degree in Chemical Engineering, Materials Science or similar.

A good background in material synthesis and electrochemistry is desirable.

Excellent oral and written communication skills with the ability to prepare presentations, reports and journal papers to the highest levels of quality.

Excellent interpersonal skills to work effectively in a team

Overseas applicants may be asked to provide a recognised English language qualification, dependent upon your nationality and where you have studied previously. We normally require an IELTS (Academic) Test with an overall score of at least 6.5, and a minimum of 6.0 in each element of the test. 

How to Apply

Applications should be made in writing to the lead supervisor, Dr Gaurav Gupta (). You must include the following

1)     CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references

2)     A cover letter outlining your qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 A4 sides)


Funding Notes

This project is funded by Lancaster University. The funding covers the cost of tuition fees and a standard tax-free RCUK stipend for 3.5 years for UK applicants. Non-UK students are welcome to apply, but the funding will only cover the cost of overseas tuition fees and the applicant would need to self-fund their living cost. It is expected that the successful applicant will start the PhD on 1st October 2022.

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