Course on Fuel Cells at Imperial College: Centre for Continuing Professional Development

Fuel Cell Technology

11 – 15 July 2016


Fuel cells are an emerging technology, and are again becoming of interest to a wide range of companies and other stakeholders.  Imperial College has an international reputation across the fuel cell field, and can offer theoretical and experimental training in a wide variety of aspects of fuel cell technology, including underlying principals, technology status, and manufacturing, characterisation and testing methods. The course will be offered as five one day modules, which can be taken as one or more options.

Course Aims

Each day has a separate aims:

Day 1: Introduction to FC technology and current status

  • To provide a grounding in the underlying principals and theory of fuel cells
  • To provide an overview of current technology status
  • To describe the current and emerging role of fuel cells in the energy system

Day 2: SOFC processing

  • To introduce SOFC materials and designs
  • To provide an overview of processes used for SOFC manufacturing
  • To provide laboratory training in SOFC processing

 Day 3: Polymer FC processing

  • To introduce PEFC materials and designs
  • To provide an overview of processes used for PEFC manufacturing
  • To provide laboratory training in PEFC processing

 Day 4: FC characterisation

  • To introduce fuel cell characterisation and analysis methods
  • To provide laboratory training in selected fuel cell characterisation methods

 Day 5: FC testing

  • To introduce fuel cell testing and analysis methods
  • To provide laboratory training in putting together and operating a fuel cell test

Who Should Attend?

The course is designed for technical staff working in the fuel cell or energy sector, and for those interested in fuel cell application and development.

Course Method

The course consists of lectures and hands-on practical sessions.

Course Registration

  • Duration: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 days
  • Fees: £445 per day OR £1850 for all 5 days

Register Online here!

For any questions please contact:

Boeing delivers reversible fuel cell to US navy

Last week, Boeing delivered a new toy to the United States navy – a 50kW reversible solid oxide fuel cell. The system acts an energy reservoir, storing liquid hydrogen that can be tapped on demand. However it also generates that same fuel from seawater, powered by wind and solar energy. Perfected and scaled up, the technology could potentially allow naval vessels to power their systems indefinitely at sea.

“The SOFC is a most promising technology for both remote islands and expeditionary applications,” said Michael Cruz, a project manager with the navy’s Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Centre. “Combined with a solar photovoltaic array, a SOFC system generates electricity, potable water, and heat with only two inputs, sunshine and seawater.”

The United States government has been studying reversible fuel cells for over 10 years, but this delivery marks a milestone in real world application. The reversible fuel cell has reportedly performed well over sixteen months of internal testing, and now will put through its paces in a practical environment.

EasyJet to trial hybrid fuel-cell systems for air fleet

Source: Arstechnica

British low-cost airline EasyJet has announced its plan to cut fuel costs and carbon emissions by turning to hydrogen fuel cell technology. This doesn’t mean they’re about to fly on hydrogen power – we’re not quite there yet – but EasyJet believes it can use hydrogen fuel cells to power aircraft’s taxiing to and from runways.

EasyJet’s initial press release was a little unclear on technical details, and many of the media reports seem to have conflated fuel cell and battery technology. It seems that the airline plans to install a hydrogen fuel cell in the hold, replacing the traditional auxiliary power unit. This will be a backup to a battery system that will regain charge from photovoltaics in the plane roof, as well as a kinetic energy recovery system connected to the landing gear. The latter technology captures energy that would otherwise be lost during braking, and draws on advances made in the racing car industry over recent years.

Taxiing makes up 4% of EasyJet’s total fuel expenditure, so this melange of energy storage could make for significant carbon savings. Ian Davies, the airline’s Head of Engineering, said that the concepts grew from work done with Cranfield University to envision what the airplanes of 2030 might look like.

Initial public response has been muted, with tabloids seizing on the possibility that passengers might be forced to drink ‘waste’ water produced as a byproduct of the hydrogen process. Nonetheless, EasyJet presses on, and hopes to trial the system later this year.

Hydrogen takes to the sky

Aerial drones have already changed the face of warfare and become a favoured toy for the technorati. Now they look set to shake up commercial delivery systems as well, with Google and Amazon prepping competing drone delivery systems for launch over the next eighteen months.

Drones are still held back, however, by their power sources. The high energy demand of keeping a robot in the air means that range and flight time of commercial drones is quite limited. Sensing an opening, Intelligent Energy has developed a hydrogen fuel cell aimed squarely at the drone market. The company claims that their cell can extend airtime from the current 30 minutes or so, to several hours. It would also allow for a much quicker refueling system than would be possible with traditional batteries.

The claims have yet to be tested on an industrial scale, but Intelligent has issued a press release announcing a partnership with a ‘major drone manufacturer.

Hydrogen’s biggest commercial barrier is the inertia in existing transportation systems. To see mass adoption of hydrogen cars will require a vast program of refitting petroleum stations to utilise a new technology. Drones, though, are a new frontier, and the infrastructure is still being built. This may give hydrogen a real chance to shine against its competitors – if the technology can fulfill its potential.

A model for an integrated wind+hydrogen network for the UK

For all the strides being made in hydrogen fuel cell transportation, we are still a long, long way from having hydrogen form a central pillar in our energy infrastructure. What would the UK look like with a hydrogen based transport sector? Is it even possible, let alone feasible?

To try and answer that question, a partnership between engineering and business researchers at Imperial College have produced a 30 page analysis entitled ‘Optimal design and operation of integrated wind-hydrogen-electricity networks for decarbonising the domestic transport sector in Great Britain’, published in this month’s International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

The ambitious model hypothesised a closed-loop hydrogen sector, where the UK’s fuel cell vehicle fleet is powered by hydrogen produced by wind power. The modellers converted all UK petrol demand into equivalent hydrogen demand, based on average fuel economies of current petrol and fuel cell cars. To meet that demand, they then sought to determine the optimal number, size and location of wind turbines, electrolysers, hydrogen storage, fuel cells, compressors and expanders. Their conclusion,

Results indicate that all of Britain’s domestic transport demand can be met by on-shore wind through appropriately designed and operated hydrogen-electricity networks. Within the set of technologies considered, the optimal solution is: to build a hydrogen pipeline network in the south of England and Wales; to supply the Midlands and Greater London with hydrogen from the pipeline network alone; to use Humbly Grove underground storage for seasonal storage and pressurised vessels at different locations for hourly balancing as well as seasonal storage; for Northern Wales, Northern England and Scotland to be self-sufficient, generating and storing all of the hydrogen locally. These results may change with the inclusion of more technologies, such as electricity storage and electric vehicles.

Optimal distribution network for hydrogen economy.
Fig 1: Optimal distribution network for hydrogen economy (

The envisioned pipeline, indicated by the red line across the south of England in the figure above, would be needed to supply the UK’s southern urban centres.

How much would all this cost? The modellers have suggested £17.1 bn/yr once the infrastructure is up and running, itself budgeted at £4.7 billion. This includes the use of large, underground reservoirs to store hydrogen in winter, when demand is lowest, and release it out during the summer months. Without storage reservoirs, the estimated cost of the network rises by 25% to meet peak demand.

Such a radical overhaul of the UKs transport and energy sectors is unlikely in the short term, to say the least, but such concrete proposals give policymakers a starting point to consider the matter more seriously. To see the full list of assumptions, calculations and conclusions in the model, you can read the full paper at the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy here.

Nickel-based catalyst performs competitively with platinum in hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells

The hunt for platinum’s successor as a hydrogen oxidation catalyst continues in this month’s Nature Communications (Zhuang, Z. et al. Nickel supported on nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes as hydrogen oxidation reaction catalyst in alkaline electrolyte. Nat. Commun. 7:10141 doi: 10.1038/ncomms10141 (2016)).

A research team from the University of Delaware, in partnership with Beijing University of Chemical Technology, have made a breakthrough in their search for a low-cost catalytic material. After switching from an acidic to an alkaline environment, the researchers experimented with nickel nanoparticles supported on nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes. According to their results, this composite catalyst can produce a hydrogen oxidation activity comparable to platinum-group metals in alkaline electrolyte. In their words,

Although nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes are a very poor hydrogen oxidation catalyst, as a support, it increases the catalytic performance of nickel nanoparticles by a factor of 33 (mass activity) or 21 (exchange current density) relative to unsupported nickel nanoparticles. Density functional theory calculations indicate that the nitrogen-doped support stabilizes the nanoparticle against reconstruction, while nitrogen located at the edge of the nanoparticle tunes local adsorption sites by affecting the d-orbitals of nickel. Owing to its high activity and low cost, our catalyst shows significant potential for use in low-cost, high-performance fuel cells.

The team’s results suggest that when the nitrogen dopants sit at the edge of the nickel nanoparticles, it stabilises and activates the nickel. By multiplying the catalytic effect of the nickel, the nitrogen-doped nanotubes thus bring the cost of the catalyst down to competitive levels.

Finding a cheap alternative catalyst to platinum is one of the necessary steps in scaling up a full-scale hydrogen economy. In a press release, contributing author Yushan Yan expressed his hope that his team’s results would be a step towards that goal,

Our real hope is that we can put hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells into cars and make them truly affordable — maybe $23,000 for a Toyota Mirai. Once the cars themselves are more affordable, that will drive development of the infrastructure to support the hydrogen economy.

ITM Power and CEME to build East London refuelling station

Fuel cell company ITM Power has signed a memorandum of understanding with The Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME) to build a hydrogen refuelling station at CEME’s East London campus.

The groups aim to produce something more than just a place to top up. The plans for the site would make it the de facto London hub for fuel cell electric vehicles, as it will include a fuel cell vehicle maintenence and training centre, a research institute and the headquarters for ITM Power’s London maintenance team.  There is no word yet on the timetable.


Berkeley Lab funded for hydrogen storage research

Berkeley Lab in California has just been awarded $8 million from the US Department of Energy for two of their projects: one to find new materials for hydrogen storage and another for optimizing fuel-cell performance and durability. The grant, from the Fuel Cell Technologies Office, shows that the American government is taking hydrogen as a serious contender alongside other next-generation energy technologies.

Jeff Urban, the HyMARC lead scientist for Berkeley Lab, said: “Berkeley Lab brings to the consortium a combination of innovation in H2 storage materials, surface and interface science, controlled nanoscale synthesis, world-class user facilities for characterizing nanoscale materials, and predictive materials genome capabilities.”

Substitute catalyst may obsolete platinum

Sandia researcher
Sandia researcher Stan Chou. Source: Randy Montoya

As outlined in Monday’s news, platinum is a world-class catalyst but remains a cost hurdle for fuel cell production. Now, in research outlined in Nature Communications, Sandia National Laboratory scientists have moved away from platinum as a catalyst entirely, turning instead to a cheaper substitute. Molybdenum disulphide, MoS2 or ‘molly’ for short, an inorganic compound similar to graphite, and currently available at less than a hundredth of the price of platinum.

In laboratory conditions MoS2 has been shown to provide a catalytic efficiency approaching platinum’s, but only at the edge of its 2d crystal nanostructure. The interior of the MoS2, which makes up the vast majority of a given sample, is differently structured and unreactive with hydrogen. As a catalyst therefore, MoS2 was 90% dead weight.

However, by using lithium to ‘pull apart’ the sheets of a MoS2 lattice, the Sandia team were able to increase the material’s surface area and, more importantly, produce a change in structure that activated the catalytic properties of the interior.

To a degree, this upgrade effect has been recognised since 1973, but the mechanisms involved were poorly understood and difficult to replicate. The Sandia team’s advance is to map exactly how and why the improved catalyst works, and thus pave the way for using MoS2 in industrial hydrogen production.

“It’s photosynthesis, but using inorganic materials rather than plants,” lead author Stan Chou explained. “Plants use enzymes powered by sunlight to break up water into hydrogen and oxygen in a delicate process. We’re proposing a similar thing here, but in a more rapid reaction and with sturdier components.”

The team claims that their upgraded Molly has already increased the yield of hydrogen production by over four times. If replicated, their model could see a big price drop in fuel cell costs going forward.

Source: Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8311 (free to public)

Platinum-copper alloy could herald cheaper fuel cells

Platinum has been long cherished for its gleam and stability, and despite its rarity it has found increasing use in our industrial processes. Most notably, platinum is used in catalytic converters for vehicles. The metal is also reactive with hydrogen, making it an excellent catalyst for fuel cells and of interest to researchers in the energy storage field.

As one of the rarest metals on Earth, platinum is too scarce to provide the raw material for a mass adoption of fuel cells. However, scientists at Tufts University have found a way to tap platinum’s fuel-cell potential at very low concentrations by combining it with copper. On its own, copper is a cheap but not very effective catalyst. With a dusting of platinum atoms, however, it becomes a highly effective catalyst for the hydrogenation of butadiene. Using tiny amounts of platinum, sometimes single atoms, within much larger quantities of copper, the researchers were able to create alloys capable of steadily splitting hydrogen over a period of days under industrial conditions.

This diluted platinum catalyst could not only be a cost saving, but make for safer and more effective fuel cells, as lowering the Pt concentration reduces the problem of the metal binding with carbon monoxide over time. Interest will be high, as a relatively cheap new alloy could drive fuel cell costs into a more competitive zone.

Source: Felicia R. Lucci et al., ‘Selective hydrogenation of 1,3-butadiene on platinum–copper alloys at the single-atom limit’, Nature Communications (2015). DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS9550 (freely available).