EPSRC DTP PhD studentship: Low-cost Alkaline SPE Water Electrolyser for Hydrogen Production

University of Exeter - College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Main supervisor: Dr Xiaohong Li (University of Exeter)

Co-supervisor:  Dr Asif Tahir (University of Exeter)

With a carbon-constrained world now a certainty, hydrogen is expected to provide a central solution to our needs for a sustainable fuel for our future transport requirements and also an approach to large scale storage of energy. Conventionally, H2 is produced by large process plant which reforms hydrocarbons to hydrogen and up to 95% of H2 production come from this method. In contrast to this method, water electrolysis provides a clean route to hydrogen from water without the consumption of fossil fuel or the emission of CO2. If the electricity comes from renewable energy sources, water electrolysis becomes a truly green technology.

Existing water electrolysis plants are usually based on cells with an aqueous alkaline electrolyte and a porous separator. The maximum current density is typically ~ 0.25A cm-2 and its energy efficiency is typically only ~ 60 %. These shortcomings led to the development of solid polymer electrolyte (SPE) water electrolysers. Acidic SPE electrolysers have a substantial improvement of conversion efficiency and are commercially available in small units. But until now they only offer expensive hydrogen because of its heavy dependence on precious metals as catalysts and using expensive membranes. It is obviously that, to help enable greater penetration of renewable energy sources, hydrogen from water must be cost-competitive.

This project aims to develop alkaline SPE electrolysers which utilise non-precious metal catalysts and give lower overpotentials for oxygen evolution compared to acidic systems, whilst maintaining improved efficiency for lower costs. The focus of the work is on developing efficient, stable catalysts for both the anode and cathode, fabricating the nanostructures of the chosen catalysts to maximise active surface area, selecting suitable corrosion-resistant substrates, membrane development and design of the cell. 

Funding Minimum
3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,296 per year.

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South West England