Integrated anode-less PEM fuel cells (iaPEM-FC) - beyond hydrogen

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Due to their great versatility, fuel cells have the possibility of powering everything from small microchips on mobile phones (small voltage) to vehicles (medium voltage) to space shuttles and submarines (high voltage applications). However, despite their potential, the strict requirement of a highly pure hydrogen feed presents difficult challenges regarding storage, safety and economical purification, compromising the widely-accepted view of hydrogen as a competitive alternative to fossil fuels in a renewable energy future. This project will produce a step-change technological evolution of the existing PEM fuel cells by switching the anode process to indirect hydrogen. The resulting technology will be part of a revolution in energy supply where energy from waste, energy surplus, industry energy recycling will complement and surpass fossil fuels. It will transform our understanding of the H2-economy, broadening the concept into renewable hydrogen vectors such ammonia reservoirs (urea, farm waste, municipal waste streams, industrial waste, etc.) and carbohydrate reservoirs in the future (waste streams, cellulosic materials or neoteric fuels from carbon dioxide) providing a renewable, affordable, accessible and non-polluting energy.

Planned Impact

This proposal has been designed with impact at the core, focused on a technological evolution of the PEM fuel cell systems. It is expect to benefit the UK and international academic community, energy industry and manufacturing sectors. It will also bring a wide-range of societal benefits including environmental sustainability, economy and education. The Case for Support contains a detailed academic impact plan. The roadmap to promote and ensure these impacts is described in the Pathways to Impact.

Energy demand and supply in the modern world result in huge challenges in terms of (i) how to balance over-production from renewables and (ii) how to harness energy from waste. When employing direct chemical-to-electrical energy conversion, (battery or fuel cell) many modern devices are able to operate without further transformation. However, transport of electricity is a major loss factor and therefore delocalised electricity production is desirable. One particularly exciting development in this field is the "reactive membrane" taking waste of complex fuels via chemical transformation to hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas is then without any storage converted to electricity. This technology has the promise of (i) safety with operation conditions compatible with domestic or industry settings, or remotely at the point of energy need, (ii) rapid demand spike response time with a membrane dimensioned to very quickly deliver hydrogen gas flow as required, and (iii) versatility in terms of fuel sources. The project will initially develop proof-of-principle devices for operation with ammonia fuels (from municipal or farm waste) but then also consider other types of fuels with corresponding novel catalyst systems.

It will benefit:
(i) Lead-users: In the course of the project new industry links will be developed with priority towards the UK energy sector (Johnson-Matthey, Intelligent Energy, ITM-Power, Arcola Energy).
A symposium will be organised at Bath towards the end of the project to bring together international players in the field of energy technologies.
(ii) End-users: The capability of producing energy from waste will simultaneously overcome two of the most pressing challenges to fuel the modern lifestyle. It will synergistically provide renewable energy while decreasing the energy demands of the current waste water treatments in an efficient and sustainable manner. As part of a broader energy revolution, this technology will have a long-term effect on the protection of the environment, global quality of life and well-being.


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Description The main outcome of this work is the exploration of renewable H2-riched compounds as H2 vectors including their decomposition into H2 as well as its purification using inkjet printing membranes.
New chemistries have been developed for the first-time printing of alloy membranes. This technology would potentially enable the use of these membranes in manufacturing processes (e.g. fuel cell)
Exploitation Route We have been in close communication with Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells however, further fundamental research would be needed to demonstrate feasibility before it can be taken forwards at an industrial level.
Sectors Energy

Description We have used the outcomes of this project for a number of public engagement activities, specially in the framework of the Cambridge Science Festival. Specifically we have explained to children and the general public the role of ammonia as a carbon-free storage material similar to fossil fuels but without detrimental CO2 emissions associated to it.
Impact Types Cultural

Description Johnson Matthey 
Organisation Johnson Matthey
Department Johnson Matthey Catalysts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We are providing a new technology ofr the manufacturing of taylor catalysts with control on nanoparticle size and dispersity.
Collaborator Contribution Advice Industrial expertise Steering direction of research
Impact JM has strongly supported our latest proposal for the renewal of the NanoCDT in Cambridge
Start Year 2018
Description Justin Hargreaves 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Department Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The understanding of new catalytic concepts developed during this project has been used to establish this new collaboration about N-activation systems where both groups are developing new sustainable catalysts for ammonia decomposition.
Collaborator Contribution They have expertise on nitrogen activation catalytic system, a complementary area to our own catalytic systems.
Impact I have participated in a symposium organised by Dr Hargreaves at the University of Glasgow.
Start Year 2016
Description Karina Mathisen 
Organisation Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Department Department of Chemistry
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of materials as well as characterisation and catalytic tests
Collaborator Contribution Deep understanding of the relationship between metal components in catalysts via characterisation using XAS
Impact Multi-disciplinary collaboration
Start Year 2016
Description Karina Mathisen (NTNU, Norway) 
Organisation Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Country Norway 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Exchange of materials to test their activity in the ammonia decomposition reaction
Collaborator Contribution Access to new materials Access to advanced synchrotron based characterisation techniques to understand the mechanism of reaction
Impact Materials science, chemistry and engineering
Start Year 2017