PhD Studentship: Developing Catalytic Materials for Oxygen Reduction in Frustrated Fuel Cells (WILDGOOSEG_U18DON)

University of East Anglia - School of Chemistry

Start Date: Oct 2018

Supervisor: Primary Supervisor: Prof Gregory G Wildgoose, Secondary supervisor: Dr John Fielden

Project description:

This PhD project seeks to pioneer a paradigm shift in hydrogen fuel cell design and chemistry that enables us to build “frustrated” fuel cells free from precious metals (Pt) and ionomer membranes. This will remove both expensive materials AND the complex, expensive ancillary equipment their use necessitates (such as humidification fuel gas purification). The result is simpler, cheaper, longer- lasting fuel cells that are economically viable as a clean energy vector.

This step-change is enabled using a new class of inexpensive electrocatalysts based on the concept pioneered by the PI: “electrocatalytic–frustrated Lewis pairs” (1-3). These SELECTIVELY catalyse the oxidation of dihydrogen at carbon electrodes. Frustrated Lewis pairs pre-activate H2 by heterolytically cleaving the molecule into a hydride and a proton, which allows us to then oxidise the hydride component at a greatly decreased voltage on carbon electrodes.

To achieve this ambitious goal, we build from the familiar to the revolutionary. “Hybrid–frustrated fuel cells” will replace the Pt used for H2 oxidation in a conventional PEMFC with electrocatalytic– frustrated Lewis pair systems developed as part of a separate, parallel, project. In this project, we will then develop and incorporate promising alternative catalysts for the aqueous reduction of oxygen, such as nitrogen-doped, metal-nitrogen-doped graphitic materials,(4) and metals doped into conducting polymers(5) within liquid PEMFCs as hybrid–frustrated fuel cells.

Selective O2 reduction catalysts will be developed using electropolymerised vanadyl and cobalt complexes that are known to reduce O2 to form water in organic solvents. These allow us to remove the ionomer (Nafion) membrane from a non-aqueous liquid fuel cell. These “frustrated” fuel cells, being entirely precious metal–free and not having thin, fragile, and expensive ionomer membranes, represent a paradigm shift in fuel cell technology by removing major sources of cost, failure, and performance loss.

Person specification: Acceptable first degrees include Chemistry or Materials Chemistry, the minimum entry requirement is a 1st.

Funding notes:

This PhD studentship is funded for 3.5 years (42 months). Funding is available to UK/EU applicants and comprises tuition fees, project costs and an annual stipend of £14,553.

Funding is available to Overseas applicants, but they are required to fund the difference between UK/EU and overseas tuition fees (in 2018/19 the difference is £13,805 for the School of Chemistry but fees are subject to an annual increase).

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South East England