SOFC for Aerospace Applications

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


We propose the use of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) for the direct conversion of hydrogen storage vectors such as ammonia to electrical energy. SOFCs have several advantages over PEM, including, multi-fuel capability, resilience to poisoning from fuel impurities and lower use of precious metal catalysts.

Chemical molecules such as ammonia have the potential to be excellent hydrogen storage vectors for aviation fuels. They do not require high pressure containment but still achieve very high hydrogen storage densities arising from the hydrogen stored within their chemical structure. However, release of the hydrogen requires a catalytic conversion and ppm levels of ammonia are a poison for PEM fuel cells so a SOFC is required.

The project proposes the (1) characterisation and (2) optimisation of SOFCs for usage in aerospace electric propulsion applications. Characterisation of the cells will focus on cycle efficiency of different fuels (Ammonia, hydrocarbons, H2) and the internal chemistry/catalysers used. Optimisation will be on structural weight reduction, power transfer efficiency, and thermal management of waste heat using AM. Experimental methods will include kinetic modelling, system modelling and synthesis, characterisation and testing of electrolytes and other fuel cell components.

Planned Impact

Impact Summary

This proposal has been developed from the ground up to guarantee the highest level of impact. The two principal routes towards impact are via the graduates that we train and by the embedding of the research that is undertaken into commercial activity. The impact will have a significant commercial value through addressing skills requirements and providing technical solutions for the automotive industry - a key sector for the UK economy.

The graduates that emerge from our CDT (at least 84 people) will be transformative in two distinct ways. The first is a technical route and the second is cultural.

In a technical role, their deep subject matter expertise across all of the key topics needed as the industry transitions to a more sustainable future. This expertise is made much more accessible and applicable by their broad understanding of the engineering and commercial context in which they work. They will have all of the right competencies to ensure that they can achieve a very significant contribution to technologies and processes within the sector from the start of their careers, an impact that will grow over time. Importantly, this CDT is producing graduates in a highly skilled sector of the economy, leading to jobs that are £50,000 more productive per employee than average (i.e. more GVA). These graduates are in demand, as there are a lack of highly skilled engineers to undertake specialist automotive propulsion research and fill the estimated 5,000 job vacancies in the UK due to these skills shortages. Ultimately, the CDT will create a highly specialised and productive talent pipeline for the UK economy.

The route to impact through cultural change is perhaps of even more significance in the long term. Our cohort will be highly diverse, an outcome driven by our wide catchment in terms of academic background, giving them a 'diversity edge'. The cultural change that is enabled by this powerful cohort will have a profound impact, facilitating a move away from 'business as usual'.

The research outputs of the CDT will have impact in two important fields - the products produced and processes used within the indsutry. The academic team leading and operating this CDT have a long track record of generating impact through the application of their research outputs to industrially relevant problems. This understanding is embodied in the design of our CDT and has already begun in the definition of the training programmes and research themes that will meet the future needs of our industry and international partners. Exchange of people is the surest way to achieve lasting and deep exchange of expertise and ideas. The students will undertake placements at the collaborating companies and will lead to employment of the graduates in partner companies.

The CDT is an integral part of the IAAPS initiative. The IAAPS Business Case highlights the need to develop and train suitably skilled and qualified engineers in order to achieve, over the first five years of IAAPS' operations, an additional £70 million research and innovation expenditure, creating an additional turnover of £800 million for the automotive sector, £221 million in GVA and 1,900 new highly productive jobs.

The CDT is designed to deliver transformational impact for our industrial partners and the automotive sector in general. The impact is wider than this, since the products and services that our partners produce have a fundamental part to play in the way we organise our lives in a modern society. The impact on the developing world is even more profound. The rush to mobility across the developing world, the increasing spending power of a growing global middle class, the move to more urban living and the increasingly urgent threat of climate change combine to make the impact of the work we do directly relevant to more people than ever before. This CDT can help change the world by effecting the change that needs to happen in our industry.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023364/1 31/03/2019 29/09/2027
2283230 Studentship EP/S023364/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2023 Elisabetta SCHETTINO