Below you can find details on the currently funded projects in the group. Our funding mainly comes from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, with one current project funded by the European Research Council. For detail on previous funding for the group, click here.
Emergent Nanomaterials (Critical Mass Proposal)
(05/2018 - 04/2022 - £500k)
In recent work we have identified a very powerful and extensive phenomenon, the constrained production of nanoparticles that opens up a new field impinging on chemistry, materials science and physics. The dispersion, stability, versatility and coherence with the substrate impart quite significant properties to the emergent nanoparticles opening up a major new topic. The process is driven by the lattice decomposition of a metal oxide under reduction by various means. Conventional thinking considers this as a simple phase separation; however, by careful control of the defect chemistry and reduction conditions, a very different process can be achieved. These nanoparticles emerge from the substrate in a constrained manner reminiscent of fungi emerging from the earth. The emergent nanoparticles are generally dispersed evenly with a very tight distribution often separated by less than one particle diameter.
Here we will explore the composition and reaction space conditions necessary to optimise functionality, structure and applicability. We will also seek to better understand this phenomenology relating to correlated diffusion, driving energetics and mechanism of emergence. Further work is necessary to understand the critical dependence of composition in a very extensive domain of composition space depending upon charge and size of the A-site cations, oxygen stoichiometry and transition metal redox chemistry. Of particular importance is to understand the nature of the interaction between the nanoparticle and the substrate addressing the evolution of the nanoparticles from the surface and how the particles become anchored to the substrate. Exolved metals can react to form compounds whilst maintaining the integrity of the nanostructural array and this offers much potential for further elaboration of the concept.
We will investigate the important catalytic, electrocatalytic and magnetic physics properties arising at constrained emergent particles, driven by dimensional restriction. Emergent nanomaterials provide very significant surface-particle interactions and promise new dimensions in catalysis. The electrochemical reactions in devices such as batteries and fuel cells are restricted to the domain very close to the electrolyte electrode interface. Emergent materials can be applied in exactly this zone.
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Hub Extension (H2FC Supergen)
(05/2017 - 04/2019 - £1.7m)
The H2FC sector is developing at a rapid pace around the world. In USA, Germany, S.Korea, and Japan, where the government has provided incentives or entered public-private partnerships, the uptake of FC technologies has been far greater than in the UK and is expected to grow, generating billions of dollars every year. In Asia, manufacturers will produce around 3,000 fuel cell cars in 2016 and around 50,000 fuel cell combined heat and power devices. Toyota alone expects to build 30,000 FC cars in 2020. Some hydrogen buses in London's fleet have operated for nearly 20,000 hours since 2011 and the city of Aberdeen runs Europe's largest hydrogen bus fleet, while individual stationary fuel cells have generated power for over 80,000 operating hours. The recently issued H2FC UK roadmap has identified key opportunities for the UK and areas in which H2FC technologies can have benefits.
The H2FC SUPERGEN Hub seeks to address a number of key issues facing the hydrogen and fuel cells sector, specifically: (i) to evaluate and demonstrate the role of hydrogen and fuel cell research in the UK energy landscape, and to link this to the wider landscape internationally, (ii) to identify, study and exploit the impact of hydrogen and fuel cells in low carbon energy systems, and (iii) to create a cohort of academics and industrialists who are appraised of each other's work and can confidently network together to solve research problems which are beyond their individual competencies. Such systems will include the use of H2FC technologies to manage intermittency with increased penetration of renewables, supporting the development of secure and affordable energy supplies for the future. Both low carbon transport (cars, buses, boats/ferries) and low carbon heating/power systems employing hydrogen and/or fuel cells have the potential to be important technologies in our future energy system, benefiting from their intrinsic high efficiency and their ability to use a wide range of low to zero carbon fuel stocks.
Advanced Inorganic Functional Materials: Floating Zone Crystal Growth System
(04/2017 - 04/2021 - £400k)
The development of new inorganic functional materials, needed for a range of applications, requires the understanding of structures and physical properties of the candidate phases.
On the structural side, high-quality large (cm-sized) single crystals are the best samples on which to solve and refine structures of such materials. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, single crystal diffraction has the advantage over powder diffraction in that the intensities of individual Bragg reflections can be measured reliably, whereas the latter suffers from peak overlap. Secondly, neutron diffraction is the method of choice for structure determination of functional materials in which the X-ray scattering is dominated by heavier cations and key information (atomic positions, occupancies, thermal displacement parameters) about the anions cannot be determined reliably. In addition, neutron diffraction can also probe long-range magnetic order. Large single crystals are needed due to the weaker interaction of matter with neutrons relative to X-rays.
For physical property measurements, large single crystals offer several advantages compared to working with powdered samples. For example, crystals can be oriented with respect to experimental probes in order to investigate the directionality and anisotropy of physical properties such as electrical or magnetic responses. In addition, property measurements on polycrystalline powered materials often suffer from grain boundary effects, which cannot always be separated from the response of the bulk of the material.
In this project we will establish a floating zone crystal growth system to produce high-quality samples of a range of important inorganic materials. These include materials for energy applications (fuel cells, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics) and those where electronic or magnetic ordering leads directly to exploitable properties such as piezoelectricity, sensing, under-water and medical imaging, gas separation, memristor and multiferroic memory applications. The information we gain on the structures and physical properties will help the exploitations of these compounds and give us the insight needed to design new generation of improved functional materials.
Elucidation of membrane interface chemistry for electo-chemical processes
(03/2017 - 08/2020 - £1.7m)
Fuel cells have been promoted as a pollution free alternative for energy generation. However, there are several constraints, based around the materials used, which have limited the implementation of this technology. This proposal provides the understanding of the chemical processes occurring in the materials and at the interfaces between the materials which drive the technology and the changes this chemistry causes to the materials. This will enable the design of fuel cell systems and choice of materials to mitigate these changes which reduce performance.
The electro-chemical processes which occur in fuel cells (both high and low temperature systems) are not unique to this technology and to demonstrate the efficacy of the study across all temperature ranges (from room temperature to 1200oC) we will also look at the separation of CO2 using dual phase membranes. While still an emerging technology, these membranes encounter similar problems to fuel cells and are extremely exciting as potential short term solutions for existing energy generation systems where CO2 is generated.
Several extremely powerful, cutting edge, analytical techniques are available which when applied in real time will allow the observation of the chemistry at atomic level. As a consequence the changes caused by operation of the system can be identified and explained. This project couples the application of existing state-of-the-art techniques with the development of these techniques where necessary to allow researchers to follow the changes as the chemical transformation of fuels into power, or CO2 separation, occur.
The potential benefit of this work is that the route to market for all three technologies will be enhanced by a deeper understanding of the chemistry. Hence, the environmental potential of the adoption of these systems will be realised. In addition, the ability to follow processes within working systems will be of great interest to the scientific community working in parallel disciplines such as the design of barriers to prevent corrosion.
Centre for Advanced Materials for Integrated Energy Systems (CAM-IES)
(12/2016 - 11/2020 - £2.1m)
The Centre of Advanced Materials for Integrated Energy Systems (CAM-IES) is a partnership between four UK universities, Cambridge, Newcastle, Queen Mary and University College London, focused on the development of advanced materials for energy conversion and energy storage based on solid-state, higher voltage, and flow batteries, solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), CO2 gas separation membranes, hybrid thin film photovoltaics (PVs) and large-area thermoelectrics for future renewable and clean energy systems. The overarching goal of CAM-IES it to help build a UK-wide community of cross-disciplinary materials researchers focused on energy applications. We target off-grid/grid-tied applications, large-/grid-scale centralised energy generation and storage and energy solutions for mobile internet communication technologies.
CAM-IES will provide a forum for scientific collaboration and exchange as well as access to state-of-the art characterisation and growth equipment to the wider UK energy materials community, in particular the unique facilities of the Sir Henry Royce Institute currently being installed in Cambridge. We exploit currently unexplored synergies between these different energy fields, and combine fundamental energy materials research aimed at making significant scientific breakthroughs, including, discovery of new materials, understanding and controlling interfaces, novel integrated device concepts, achieving enhanced device performances, all with strong industry engagement. The latter will include early shaping workshops with industrial partners to identify requirements for materials in specific applications and the establishment of effective methods for evaluating new materials discoveries for industrial scale-up.
The research programmes are focused around six work packages (WPs), aimed at addressing key scientific challenges for each of the devices, e.g., ionic transport across interfaces in solid state batteries and SOFCs membranes, increased efficiency in PVs, and methods for self-assembly in thermoelectrics. WP6 directly attacks the challenges associated with the integration of new materials into working devices and optimising their performance. An overarching theme is to pioneer new metrologies to characterise interfaces under operando conditions, including NMR, magnetic resonance imaging and transmission electron microscopy and pulsed isotope exchange methods. Integration of different devices is enabled by the development of a bespoke tool to enable the controlled deposition and integration of a wide range of low-temperature battery, SOFC, solar cell and thermoelectric materials in a common, inert processing environment. The scope of the work and academic/industrial participation with be expanded via three flexible funding calls, with topics including emerging new research areas, industry driven/partnered, and materials integration research.
We will provide UK academia and businesses with a forum for knowledge exchange and collaboration, coupled with access to world-class facilities to accelerate new concepts to commercial reality. The development of strong modes of collaborative working and networking between individual EPSRC Centres for Advanced Materials for Energy Generation and Transmission, together with our University partners, industry and stakeholder groups, is an important goal. A series of high visibility symposia and workshops involving all the stakeholders, to identify synergies between the EPSRC Advanced Materials Centres and key industry challenges, to disseminate research findings to the community and to train users on CAM-IES facilities, is a key strategy to identify and engage users and disseminate results. We will provide support for students and PDRAs from outside the 4 original partner universities to attend these events and use CAM-IES equipment. Strategic advice to Centre will be provided by a broad and highly experienced, international advisory board from industry and academia.
The UK Catalysis Hub
(01/2016 - 11/2018 - £1.8m)
Catalysis is a core area of science that lies at the heart of the chemicals industry - an immensely successful and important part of the overall UK economy, where in recent years the UK output has totaled over £50B and is ranked 7th in the world. This position is being maintained in the face of immense competition worldwide. For the UK to sustain its leading position it is essential that innovation in research is maintained, which can be achieved through bringing together the internationally leading academic activity that exists in the UK in this key area of contemporary science. We therefore, aim to create a coordinated UK programme for Catalysis, with a hub in the Research Complex at Harwell, which will help to keep the UK at the forefront of this crucial scientific and technological sector. The location of the hub at Harwell will allow us to interact closely with both central facilities, to whose development the project will contribute, and with the broader scientific community on the Harwell/RAL Campus. The major developments in the in situ characterisation of catalytic materials that have taken place in the recent years have been of immense importance in addressing the complex scientific problems posed by catalytic science. The component of the programme based at the hub will focus on catalyst design and will develop state-of-the art in situ facilities that will be used for experiments to be conducted at the Diamond, Synchrotron Radiation, ISIS Neutron Scattering and Central Laser Facilities. Such experiments will allow us to probe the structure and evolution of catalysts at the molecular level during their operation; but their effectiveness will require integration with a wide ranging modeling programme which will explore and predict catalytic systems and performance across the relevant length and time scales from the nano- to the macro-level.
The hub will couple with an extensive programme of applications, which will be distributed amongst the extensive rage of collaborating institutions and will be built round the following central themes in contemporary catalytic science:
* Catalysis Design
* Catalysis for Energy
* Chemical Transformations
* Environmental Catalysis
By coordinating the expertise of the collaborative groups, in novel areas of catalytic science with a strong focal point in the Harwell/RAL campus, we will provide a platform for new initiatives that will provide a hub for UK catalysis research and will give substantial added value to the existing investment in catalytic science. Moreover by working together, the UK scientific team will be able take centre stage and lead the world in this crucial field.
The impact of the Centre will be further promoted by a vigorous and effective dissemination strategy which will develop strong interactions with a wide range of academic and industrial groups and with the broader scientific community.
From membrane material synthesis to fabrication and function (SynFabFun)
(04/2015 - 03/2020 - £4.5m)
Membranes offer exciting opportunities for more efficient, lower energy, more sustainable separations and even entirely new process options - and so are a valuable tool in an energy constrained world. However, high performance polymeric, inorganic and ceramic membranes all suffer from problems with decay in performance over time, through either membrane ageing (membrane material relaxation) and/or fouling (foreign material build-up in and/or on the membrane), and this seriously limits their impact.
Our vision is to create membranes which do not suffer from ageing or fouling, and for which separation functionality is therefore maintained over time. We will achieve this through a combination of the synthesis of new membrane materials and fabrication of novel membrane composites (polymeric, ceramic and hybrids), supported by new characterisation techniques.
Our ambition is to change the way the global membrane community perceives performance. Through the demonstration of membranes with immortal performance, we seek to shift attention away from a race to achieve ever higher initial permeability, to creation of membranes with long-term stable performance which are successful in industrial application.
Single Pore Engineering for Membrane Development SPEED
(02/2013 - 02/2018 – €2.0m)
Mankind needs to innovate to deliver more efficient, environmentally-friendly and increasingly intensified processes. The development of highly selective, high temperature, inorganic membranes is critical for the introduction of the novel membrane processes that will promote the transition to a low carbon economy and result in cleaner, more efficient and safer chemical conversions. However, high temperature membranes are difficult to study because of problems associated with sealing and determining the relatively low fluxes that are present in most laboratory systems (fluxes are conventionally determined by gas analysis of the permeate stream). Characterisation is difficult because of complex membrane microstructures. These problems can be avoided by adopting an entirely new approach to membrane materials selection and kinetic testing through a pioneering study of permeation in single pores of model membranes. Firstly, model single pore systems will be designed and fabricated; appropriate micro-analytical techniques to follow permeation will be developed. Secondly, these model systems will be used to screen novel combinations of materials for hybrid membranes and to determine kinetics with a degree of control not previously available in this field. Thirdly, the improved understanding of membrane kinetics will be used to guide real membrane design and fabrication. Real membrane performance will be compared to model predictions and the impact of the new membranes on the process design will be investigated. If successful, an entirely new approach to membrane science will be developed and demonstrated. New membranes will be developed facilitating the adoption of new processes addressing timely challenges such as the production of high purity hydrogen from low-grade reducing gases, carbon dioxide capture and the removal of oxides of nitrogen from oxygen-containing exhaust streams.