Real-Time H2 Purification and Monitoring for Efficient and Durable Fuel Cell Vehicles

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Chemistry


Hydrogen and fuel cells (HFCs) offer multiple advantages, such as low urban pollution / CO2 emission, quiet operation, low self-discharge, high energy density and extended driving ranges. The technology simultaneously addresses many of the major energy and environmental challenges, and shows the flexibility to integrate the diverse/intermittent renewable energy sources that are increasingly installed across Europe and emphasized in EU "Horizon 2020" [1,2]. It is estimated that the HFC market will reach $3 billion with hydrogen demand from fuel cells > 140 million kg in 2030 [1]. However, the technology is not yet economically competitive with other fuel systems, e.g. gas turbines for balancing electrical grids, Li-ion batteries for domestic storage, nor high compression ratio diesel engines for transport. Two important factors contributing to the elevated costs of HFCs are: (1) the additional cost of high-purity H2 needed to extend asset lifetime, especially when the H2 is generated from diverse sources or supplied by an on-board hydride/hybrid tank; (2) the cost associated with the limited lifetime of HFCs due to impurity built-up or catalytic poisoning. Therefore, low-cost and in-line H2 purification and impurity monitoring are crucial for the reduction of H2 fuel costs and fuel cell running cost due to extended lifetime of the fuel cell stacks.

This multi-disciplinary proposal will seek to address both problems by: (1) developing low-cost and high performance in-situ H2 purification systems to reduce H2 fuel cost for HFCs; (2) developing low-cost, robust CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) gas sensors for real-time impurity monitoring both to reduce cell maintenance costs and extend the lifetime of HFCs. These two issues represent two critical impediments to the future of hydrogen technology.

Members of the consortium provide complementary expertise in hydrogen storage and purification [XG & AS], hydrogen fuel cells, including catalyst poisoning and other degradation phenomena [AS], development of gas/chemical microsensors [JG], as well as large project design and management [XG, JG]; thus enabling the consortium to develop an integrated approach to H2 purification and impurity monitoring offering novel design, fundamental analysis, and optimal integration of such devices for efficient, low-cost and high-purity hydrogen delivery. We propose to work closely with the HFC Hub, UKERC, and our industrial supporters, as well as other relevant agencies and scientists in the UK and internationally, to accelerate the technology transfer of HFCs to industry.

Key word: hydrogen fuel cell, purification, gas sensors, impurity monitoring

Planned Impact

The positive impact of the proposed research is potentially far-reaching and global, as the aim of this project is to drive the development and deployment of hydrogen fuel cell technologies for clean transport and distributed power generation. Widespread adoption of HFC would represent a paradigm change in such area. The beneficiaries of this research therefore include all the stakeholders associated with hydrogen fuel cells: including domestic, commercial and industrial hydrogen fuel cell developers, end-users, distributors, equipment suppliers, regulators and policy makers as well as relevant research communities.

We will make advances in several key research areas, focusing on fabrication and characterisation of hydrogen purification systems, development of smart gas detection concepts and signal processing technologies for ppm level gas sensing and monitoring, diagnosis strategy for an integrated hydrogen purification and impurity monitoring systems. These are well suited for deployment and innovation for future hydrogen economy. A ready pathway to impact for the knowledge developed in the underlying integrated gas purification and sensing technologies is through our close link with the HFC Hub and relevant industrial partners, including Alsitek, Cambridge CMOS Sensors Ltd, and partners in the Scottish HFC Association.

The project has a strong industrial application focus. The developed low-cost hydrogen in-line purification and impurity monitoring system offers benefits of reduced fuel processing costs, reduced the maintenance cost, and enhanced lifetime of HFCs for transport, including passenger cars, public buses, train auxiliary power in urban areas, and low emission shipping. More importantly, the development outcome should quicken the industrial adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technologies. The wide use of clean hydrogen power technologies reduces direct CO2 emission, mitigating climate change, and reducing transport-related chemical and noise pollution, directly contributing to the well-being of mankind and the quality of life as a whole.

We commit to building a continuous and effective collaboration and knowledge transfer between the two research institutions and industry partners throughout the whole project, to enhance and maximize strengths and benefits. The UCL team has a strong background on hydrogen storage, gas purification/separation, while the Warwick partners have valuable and considerable experience on micro multi-gas sensor technologies, systems integration and optimization. Through collaboration and knowledge transfer, our team will share complementary strengths and common vision to develop a novel design and optimum integration of in-line hydrogen purification and impurity monitoring for an efficient, low-cost and low-carbon power system.

We will also contribute to the young scientists training and public engagement programmes, to disseminate our research impact to wider public.


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Gadipelli S (2015) Graphene-based materials: Synthesis and gas sorption, storage and separation in Progress in Materials Science

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Guo D (2018) Two-colour In 0.5 Ga 0.5 As quantum dot infrared photodetectors on silicon in Semiconductor Science and Technology

Description We have developed specific membrane structures with tailored porosities and channels for the removal of impurity molecules from diverse sources of hydrogen. This is to allow fuel cells to run effectively for a long time with the issue of poisoning of the effective catalyst that transforms hydrogen fuel into electricity. Novel sensors are also developed to detect very low levels of such impurities, so that such sensors may be embedded in the purification membranes to monitor the level of residuals and alert users to change or re-generate the membrane filters.
Exploitation Route - Collaborative development of materials membranes into product forms;
- Sponsorships for demonstration products.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Transport

Description - Scientific outputs have been disseminated with industrial collaborators and new industrial firm for potential exploitation in energy efficiency and creative industry sectors. - Senors development has led to a patent:Infrared device. J. W. Gardner, B. Urasinska-Wojcik, Y. Xing, Pat. Appl. No.: 1616754.6 (3rd October 2016); the technology is further explored by Cambridge CMOS for future applications. - In discussion with a UK SME to look into H2 purification unit for hydrogen generation from bio-sources. - Further research has been initiated for sensing in clean water supply and internet of things.
Sector Education,Energy,Environment,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Expert Advisor to Chinese Acadmy of Sciences
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact Advice on CAS strategic programmes and assessment of large consortium grant applications.
Description UK Representative and Sub-Programme Coordinator
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Impact UK Representative and Sub-Programme Coordinator of "Advanced Materials and Processes for Energy Applications" (AMPEA), the EU Energy Research Alliance (EERA), 2010-: Advising EU energy funding programmes and future development and implementations of Horizon 2020.
Description FP7-NMP-2013-SMALL-7
Amount € 4,726,360 (EUR)
Funding ID 604656 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2014 
End 01/2018
Description Intelligent Coatings for Energy-Efficient Glazing
Amount £435,724 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M003353/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2017
Description Multi-scale Analysis for Facilities for Energy Storage
Amount £4,013,527 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N032888/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 09/2020
Title Interactive Website Forum 
Description The Crucible website offers Crucible members a place to meet collaborators, share and discuss ideas and to post research ideas. The poster of research ideas has control of their idea and can open it to all members or close it to a select few. There is scope to chat to other members and to upload/download documents and discuss them. The website is open to all members of UCL but closed to others to allow an open space to raise ideas without having to worry about ideas being stolen by other research organisations. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2008 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact To date there are 700 Crucible members whom have posted and discuss over 90 research ideas. This has lead to 12 of the feasibility studies being funded by Crucible. The site is continually used by others as a place to visit to find collaborators or information on funding calls and conferences. The site has had over 17500 visits since its launch in 2009. 
Description HyPure 
Organisation Cambridge CMOS Sensors
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The project has offered Cambridge CMOS new requirements of in-situ sensors of exceptional sensitivity and selectivity, as well as awareness of potential market in new energy devices.
Collaborator Contribution Cambridge CMOS has been active in participating regular project meetings, offering advice on project development, and assisting in the manufacture / assembly of sensors for the project.
Impact In progress.
Start Year 2014
Title Infrared device 
Description Infrared device, by J. W. Gardner, B. Urasinska-Wojcik, Y. Xing, Pat. Appl. No.: 1616754.6 (3rd October 2016), covers innovative design and fabrication of a special type of censoring devices based on the infrared principles. 
IP Reference  
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2016
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact Under development