Hydrogen Generation by Electrochemical Water Dissociation

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


The project aims to develop a hydrogen generation system based on electrochemical water dissociation with zero electrical energy input. The project will revolutionise hydrogen production by creating hydrogen at a lower cost than commercial systems such as water electrolysis and reforming. It provides a sustainable route to hydrogen significantly reducing carbon emissions. This proposal is concerned with development of a robust hydrogen generator based on the conversion of waste, alcohols and biomass via direct and indirect electrolysis. The process uses either homogeneous or heterogeneous catalysts as charge carriers, which has several advantages. The catalytic redox reaction can occur in the solution and as a result, a noble metal anode is not needed. The electrolysis energy requirement is very low; 20% of that in conventional water electrolysis. This is related to the replacement of the oxygen evolution reaction at the anode with the indirect oxidation at a lower potential, which leads to a significant reduction in applied potential. The approach will test the feasibility of a novel electrolyser in which half the electrolyser generates electrical energy and thus supplements the low electrical potential required for the hydrogen generation; making it a zero energy electrical consuming electrolyser.

Planned Impact

The development of economically-viable methods for generating hydrogen fuel is widely acknowledged as one of the major milestones that will mitigate climate change and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Electrolysis of water can produce the highly pure hydrogen needed for proton exchange membrane fuel cells but state-of-the-art electrolysers remain hampered by serious performance problems. Success in this project will represent a significant breakthrough compared to the state of the art, and could usher in a new era of clean power generation from biomass and efficient use in high performance fuel cells. Consequently, our project will have wide-ranging impacts across society, academia, industry and financial sectors. These impacts are far-reaching; the EPSRC leads the energy theme for the UK while the EU, Japan, Germany and the USA have all invested heavily in hydrogen research via major Priority Research Programmes.

To maximise impact, we will develop Newcastle's links with local SMEs and companies such as Siemens, Nissan, while our project already benefits from strong support from industrial companies(see attached letters of support). Exploitation of the potential commercial and non-commercial outputs of the research will be managed by the Science, Agriculture and Engineering Enterprise Team at Newcastle, which has extensive experience of successfully negotiating contracts in areas such as collaboration, confidentiality, material transfer and licensing. The Research and Enterprise Services at Newcastle has in this decade, filed 26 patent filings and assisted in the formation of 9 spin-out companies. There is a need to attract more young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. As this project addresses the challenges of climate change and energy conversion, each of which is of passionate interest to large sections of the general public, we have a real opportunity to communicate our science to the public. Engagement with the general public, students, and schoolchildren will be undertaken by the PI, CI, and PDRA via an outreach programme including a wide range of schools lectures, open days, and public demonstrations, all of which will be coordinated by Dr. Eve Simcox, Faculty Research Impact Officer at Newcastle.


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Description The performance of a novel electro-reformer for the production of hydrogen by electro-reforming alcohols (methanol, ethanol and glycerol) without an external electrical energy input was studied. This tandem cell consists of an alcohol fuel cell coupled directly to an alcohol reformer, negating the requirement for external electricity supply and thus reducing the cost of operation and installation. The tandem cell uses a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) based fuel cell and electrolyse.
The tandem cell was able to reform alcohols such as ethanol and methanol, which are obtained from fermentation processes to hydrogen without requiring external electricity.
Exploitation Route The use of the tandem cell overcomes a major restriction in electro-reforming of simple chemicals to clean hydrogen, i.e, the use of electricity from the grid. By working with fermentation industries a technology can be developed to use bio-fuels to create hydrogen with environmental benefits
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Transport