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PhD cluster

Hydrogen production and storage

This PhD cluster addresses challenges related to hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, optimisation and modelling, and industrial applications.

Carolina Font Palma

Research specialisms

Mathematical Modelling, Optimisation, Simulation, Hydrogen Production, Hydrogen Storage, techno-economic analysis, process simulation, catalysts, materials, ultrasound.

Group lead

Dr Carolina Font Palma


The Challenge

Advancing the hydrogen economy is currently recognised as a critical element for decarbonisation, and is promoted in this PhD cluster.To achieve the global greenhouse gas emissions targets and move both industry and society towards a net zero emission path, there is an urgent need for hydrogen to be used as feedstock for energy to fuel industrial processes, domestic heating and for transport.
In the long term, hydrogen must be produced from renewable and/or low-carbon resources, in a true sustainable pathway towards a low-carbon or ‘green’ hydrogen economy. This poses numerous technical challenges as well as cost issues. Currently, there are enormous global R&D activities which study and explore all aspects of hydrogen production, storage, transportation and utilisation. Among all the efforts, efficient and cost-effective production of hydrogen are essential i.e., using innovative electrochemistry with sustainable and long-life catalysts.
However, safe, low-pressure and high-density storage of hydrogen is currently more important than production itself. Using this doctoral training research cluster funding opportunity, we focus on five complementary research directions. 

The Approach

This PhD cluster addresses some of the technical challenges by:

  • Design, testing and production of new/cost-efficient catalysts, based on earth-abundant metals, focusing on tailoring and improving their efficiency for hydrogen production.
  • Design, develop and optimise innovative storage materials to store hydrogen at atmospheric pressure, focusing on issues related to hydrogen flow, porosity and storage-release cycles in a controlled and safe manner.
  • Design and development of ultrasound-enhanced processing and low-cost manufacturing technologies for enhancing catalytic hydrogen production and manufacturing of hydrogen storage materials, as well as reliable control of the hydrogen storage and release cycles.
  • Multiphysics modelling, data-driven and machine learning/artificial intelligence to enable new materials and processing design and optimisation strategies. The work will feed back design and optimisation methodologies of the three directions above.
  • Selection of hydrogen production and storage options that match applications with technological, economic and environmental benefits. 

This PhD cluster is also supported by Industrial Advisors leading UK hydrogen projects, i.e. EDF Energy Limited.

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  • Build the university’s capacity and critical mass in research concerning hydrogen production and storage with a particular strength on catalysis for production, materials for storage for manufacturing optimisation via advanced modelling and artificial intelligence as well as industry applications.
  • Become a local hub of excellence for innovation and collaboration with industrial stakeholders relevant to hydrogen production, transportation and usages. 


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  • See all projects

    Project 1: New molecular catalysts for water splitting based on photo-system II (PSII)
    Lead supervisor: Prof Carl Redshaw

    The reversible oxidation of water to produce oxygen and protons is a deceptively simple reaction. Biologically, this four-electron/four-proton process is catalysed by PSII, the active site is known as oxygen-evolving complex (OEC). Abiologically, low-temperature fuel cell technology remains firmly based upon platinum metal or its alloys. However, platinum is both expensive and rare. Designing new materials for oxygen/water interconversion based on the abundant elements found in the OEC is attractive. Most Mn-O chemistry has been elucidated, but catalytic systems prove elusive. We propose the synthesis and exploration of calixarene-based frameworks to support metallo-oxo cluster systems for reversible water oxidation as a functioning analogue of the natural active site which catalyses this process. We will explore the assembly of manganese and related cluster cores within a ligating framework via three routes: (a) templating using inorganic structures, (b) using organic templates, (c) a self-assembly approach using water soluble, carboxylate functionalised calixarenes.

    Project 2: Innovative hydrogen storage materials for a net zero society
    Lead supervisor: Prof Georg Mehl

    High porosity organic soft matter systems incorporating rigid-plate aromatic and flexible hydrocarbon moieties will be designed containing organometallic functionalities for enhanced hydrogen binding. Hierarchical structures and porosity will be designed-in to enhance hydrogen flow and control storage-release cycles. The project will interface strongly with the catalysis project and will be intimately connected with the ultrasound-enhanced reliable control of the hydrogen storage and release cycles project. The focus is on pore size and structure (e.g. fractal, distinct registers) and on ultrasound mediated hydrogen release. Experimental results and theoretical data will be incorporated through modelling, and using machine learning collaborating with the specific projects to advance research progress but also to enrich the research strategy. Student secondment to the complementary teams (Catalysis, Engineering, Computing (Projects 1,3)) to learn and to apply relevant cross disciplinary skills and modes of thinking will produce an expert with cutting edge advanced skills sets.

    Project 3: Modelling and data-driven optimisation for developing hydrogen production and storage materials and technologies
    Lead supervisor: Dr Jie Yang

    Many fundamental and dynamic issues in the chemical and physical processes in Projects 1 to 5 have not been fully understood. To gain a more quantitative perspective and assist in the optimisation of these processes, a multiphysics modelling and simulation study will be carried out. The focus is to study the energetic cavitation bubbles interaction with the different chemical species in the catalysis process for enhancing chemical reactions, as well as how the dynamic bubbles can enhance the formation of porosity in the metal-organic materials from the liquid state to solid state. This project will develop models to better understand the underlying physics that underpin the optimisation of electrolysis processes for maximising hydrogen production as well as investigate the mechanisms involved in different hydrogen storage options. The models will be tested and validated using a combination of theoretical and experimental results derived from Projects 1,2 and 4.

    Project 4: Selection of hydrogen production and storage options according to industrial application
    Lead supervisor: Dr Carolina Font Palma

    Hydrogen is a key enabling commodity for the replacement of fossil fuels used for power, heat, storage and transport. Nevertheless, there is a wide gap between the variety of hydrogen production technology options investigated and the scale and applications where hydrogen will make the best candidate fuel. To take advantage of a wider spectrum of solutions for green and blue hydrogen production, a structured procedure is proposed in this work for the selection of hydrogen production and storage pathways (including the routes in Projects 1 and 2) and their industrial use or dispatchable power use. The algorithms to be developed will provide a first screening and ranking of options to lead to the selection of scenarios to match hydrogen production and storage routes based on technical, economic and environmental benefits. Findings will inform the other four projects.

    Project 5: Development of ultrasound-enhanced low-cost technologies for manufacturing atmospheric hydrogen storage materials

    Lead supervisor: Prof Jiawei Mi

    Ultrasonic cavitation is a very efficient and effective way in enhancing chemical reactions, element mixing and catalysis processes. It is also a very efficient process for producing bubbles in a liquid media (tens of thousands in seconds), hence for making porous materials. In this project, we will add ultrasound waves into the two processes defined in Projects 1 and 2, exploring the optimal ultrasound conditions to maximise the efficiency of the catalysis processes for producing hydrogen and the best conditions for producing the porous materials for hydrogen storage. The aim is to maximise the capability for hydrogen production and storage. The project will also intimately link to Project 3 for the model validation, calibration and optimisation purposes. Prof Mi has a series of the state-of-the art ultrasound materials processing facilities and access to the most advanced X-ray imaging and diffraction capability in the world for supporting the research.

The Impact

The benefits that emerge from this ambitious programme are multifaceted since it encompasses developments in various aspects of the fundamental science (catalysts, storage materials) and technology (ultrasound technologies) to advances in multiphysics modelling and technology evaluation.
Any new materials and device technologies are planned to be protected through patent applications with further exploitable intellectual property and exploitable know-how likely to be generated.
The direct outcomes of the cluster will be extremely well-trained future research leaders and high impact papers.
In the process of achieving this, the university will become an important partner and resource for industry, both regional, as well as national, strengthening the profile of our university (contributing to the next REF in several units of assessment).
Moreover, this investment will lay the foundation as a springboard to leverage significant external research grants, funding and investment from public science funders (UKRI, Innovate UK) and industry. 
  • Members

    Dr Carolina Font Palma

    Engineering | Lead |

    Prof Georg Mehl

    Chemistry |

    Prof Jiawei Mi

    Engineering |

    Prof Carl Redshaw

    Chemistry |

    Dr Jie Yang

    Mathematics |

    Dave Dawson

    Business Development Consultant, Lampada

  • PhD Students

    Alice Marr, 'New molecular catalysts for water splitting based on photo-system II', supervisors: Carl Redshaw, Jie Yang, Jiawei Mi

    Aaron Brooks, 'Innovative hydrogen storage materials for a net zero society', supervisors: Georg Mehl, Jiawei Mi, Carolina Font Palma

    Joshua Kenton Brown, 'Modelling and data-driven optimisation for developing hydrogen production and storage materials and technologies', supervisors: Jie Yang, Jiawei Mi, Carl Redshaw

    Matthew John Lovelady, 'Selection of hydrogen production and storage options according to industrial application', supervisors: Carolina Font Palma, Georg Mehl

    Kharel Sungcad, 'Explore the optimal ultrasound conditions to maximise the efficiency of catalysis processes for producing hydrogen and the best conditions for producing the porous materials for hydrogen storage', supervisors: Jiawei Mi, Carl Redshaw 



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