Sustainable energy and materials
We have a team of academics and researchers with diverse skills and expertise, to drive research and innovation in developing materials and clean technologies to address and mitigate the energy and environmental challenges, to pave the way for a net-zero emission future.
Our research covers several key application areas including sustainable catalysis for CO2 and waste conversion, hydrogen and fuel cells, energy storage batteries, biomass and waste valorisation, as well as solar and nuclear energy applications. Our work spans from materials design and synthesis, to device fabrication and testing, and multiscale modelling for materials design and process optimisation.
As we move away from use of non-renewable resources, valorisation of residual biomass and waste becomes increasingly important to enable a more sustainable, circular economy.
We use various tools to develop and implement biomass and waste valorisation solutions such as ultrasonic processing and catalytic conversion, paired with technoeconomic tools such as process simulation, optimisation modelling, and life cycle analysis. Our work in solutions to this challenge area ranges from bench top experimentation (chemical conversion of biomass components, food surplus for hair dyes) to consideration of whole systems (assessment of waste valorisation supply chains, industrial symbiosis).
As high economic growth rates and the rapid population expansion drive increasing energy consumption, cleaner and renewable energy sources are required to meet the rising energy demands.
The research on clean energy in the Department spans solar, nuclear, bioenergy and fuel cells, and focuses on the development of advanced intensified technologies to pave the way to a more sustainable energy future, in addition to energy planning software tools to see how these new technologies can be implemented in real systems.
Our team is diverse in areas of expertise and combines knowledge in chemical engineering, multi-scale modelling, materials science, chemistry, and optimisation. With a direct sight on translation, our research aims to ensure that a holistic approach will be followed, combining both experimental and modelling investigations, to transform fundamental knowledge into real-world application.
Rechargeable batteries play a significant role in decarbonizing the electricity supply and transportation systems by providing the necessary energy storage means.
We work on a range of battery technologies including Li-ion batteries, Na-ion batteries, K-ion batteries, Li-S batteries, Zn-ion batteries, redox flow batteries, etc. and drive the innovation in developing novel materials for these battery systems, unravelling the working mechanisms by combining multiscale materials modelling with advanced characterisation techniques, and fabricating and testing the batteries for practical applications.
Our work on Na-ion batteries received funding support from EPSRC (EP/M027066/1, EP/R021554/1). We are also part of the Faraday Institution LiSTAR programme for developing Li-S batteries.
Today, the UK’s transportation and industrial sectors rely almost entirely on fossil fuels. Hydrogen has a key role in the global energy transition for diversifying the available energy sources. However, any transition from a carbon-based (fossil fuels) energy economy to a hydrogen-based economy involves significant scientific, technological and socio-economic considerations.
Renewable hydrogen production and energy materials
One of the key objectives of our team is to address the challenges associated with renewable hydrogen production and energy materials.
We specialise in producing “green” hydrogen from renewable energy sources. We have recently patented a unique electrochemical-thermochemical loop (WO 2020/016580 A2) offering a high efficiency (above 90 per cent, ~ 3.4 kWh per Std. m3 of H2) with a cyclic red-ox operation supported by an environmentally friendly recursive electrolyte solution. This work is of interest by an industrial consortium (Fluor, NVH Global, Fawley waterside, etc.) for developing a green hydrogen pilot plant. We have also patented (US20200115806A1) a modified alkaline electrolyser using a superionic transition metal hydroxide solution for efficient hydrogen production.
Another objective of our research is to develop low-cost, efficient, and highly active ceramic nanocomposites to improve the electrochemical properties, thermo-mechanical properties, and durability of the SOFCs/SOEs. This will allow fabricating the next generation of SOFCs/SOEs that could operate below 600 °C with high performance and stability and be fully compatible with hydrocarbon fuels.
Our team is specialised in fabricating single cells and ministacks for both SOFC and SOEC applications. Developing a wide range of ceramic nanocomposites for low-temperature solid oxide fuel cells and electrolysers is another key aspect of the research activities in our group.
We are also working on anion exchange membrane fuel cells and electrolysers in collaboration with Professor John Varcoe who is a world-leading expert in anion exchange membrane. Our work focus on advanced electrocatalysts and electrode engineering.
Our laboratory (the Energy Lab) is equipped with a wide range of facilities for:
- Materials synthesis (high-temperature chamber and tube furnaces, rotavaps, high energy ultrasound probes, etc.)
- Comprehensive electrical characterisation as a function of temperature and oxygen partial pressure (high-resolution potentiostat/galvanostat, dc loads, dc power supply, high-resolution desktop multimeters, etc.)
- SOFC cell construction and testing rigs (screen printer, tape caster, cell test fixture, EIS analysis rig, etc.)
Along with a wide range of physiochemical analysis equipment (TGA, Raman spectroscopy analyser, FTIR, H2-TPR, and access to the FESEM, TEM, XRD, XPS analyser campus-wide).
We are working on design and synthesis of functional materials from atomic level in order to tackle the key global and societal challenges of ensuring the provision of energy and protecting our environment for the future.
We are interested in combining theoretical studies with experimental materials synthesis, advanced characterisation and applications, for new understanding and advanced design of novel materials. The materials we are working on include (but are not limited to):
- Ceramic materials
- Carbon materials
- Metal and alloys nanoparticles
- Catalysts, etc.
Our work in supplying solutions to today’s grand challenges in energy requires whole systems approaches. Large, integrated processes that characterise modern energy systems require understanding and innovation at all levels - from atoms to industry-wide understanding.
We deliver modelling solutions to design, optimise and understand complex systems, from detailed computational fluid dynamics, molecular dynamics and density functional theory simulations to understand complex geometries and novel systems and materials, all the way to industry-wide supply chain modelling, process integration, and real-time optimisation.
Much of this work is in collaboration with the Information and Process Systems Engineering group within the department.
Decarbonisation of the global economy requires transition to a circular economy, which by design of sustainable processes avoids resource depletion and waste generation. Moving from the existing linear to a future circular economy requires rethinking process development within all industries as well as creating synergies across sectors.
We are working to develop new catalysts that unlock chemical transformations for a sustainable, circular economy. We are interested in harnessing renewable energy and feedstocks for chemical production, preventing and reversing pollution of resources, and devising zero or negative emission technologies for chemical production. These challenges bring together our research on precise material synthesis, advanced catalyst characterisation, mechanistic insight into catalytic reactions, and understanding the translation of lab scale performance to real world applications.
Through a concerted effort that also links to our collaborators around the world, we seek to design catalysts for processes of varying scales to meet local and global needs for sustainability.
Particularly we are focusing on the following areas:
- CO2 utilisation reactions
- Syngas processing
- Waste to fuels through catalytic biomass conversion
- Catalytic biogas upgrading
- Nano reactors for sustainable catalysis
- Microchannel reactors for process intensification.
Research facilities and strengths
We have well-equipped research labs and a wide range of facilities covering materials synthesis, analysis and characterisation, device fabrication, and process testing.
Materials synthesis facilities
- Rotary evaporators
- Vacuum oven
- High-temperature chamber and tube furnaces
- High energy ultrasound probes etc.
Analytical and characterisation tools
- BET porosity and surface area analyser
- Mercury porosimeter
- Particle size analyser
- FTIR-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy
- Density analyser
- Raman Spectroscopy
- Data-Colour Spectrometer.
Devices and process testing
- SOFC testing rigs
- Hydrogen production rigs
- Thermal catalysis mini-plants
- Multiscale-ultrasound processing
- Conductivity measurement
- High pressure batch reactors.
- Screen printing
- Uniaxial compression equipment.
Software and licenses
- COMSOL Multiphysics
- Sustainability software
- May 2021 - June 2021, EPSRC IAA, "Research capacity retention to enable knowledge exchange and impact related activities and/or skills development", £7,800. Principal investigator: Dr Qiong Cai
- October 2020 – September 2021, Royal Society Research Grant, "Improving ionic conductivity of co-doped ceria based nanocomposite electrolytes", £20,000. Principal investigator: Dr Bahman Amini Horri
- 1 January 2020 - 30 September 2020, SPRINT - SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology, "Micro-catalytic reactors for mono-propellant thrusters in small satellites", £100,000. Principal investigator: Dr Tomas Ramirez Reina
- 1 June 2018 - 30 June 2019. Royal Society, "Engineering solutions for CO2 conversion", £20,000. Principal investigator: Dr Tomas Ramirez Reina
- January 2018 - July 2021, EPSRC Industry Strategy Challenge Wave 1 "Electro_NIB: Designing electrodes for Na-Ion batteries via structure electrochemical performance correlations", £1.1 million. Surrey principal investigator: Dr Qiong Cai
- 2 January 2018 - 31 September 2021, NERC UKRI, "Mathematical analysis of bioelectrochemical systems", £365,631. Principal investigator: Dr Siddharth Gadkari
- 1 January 2018 - 31 December 2018, Newton Funds and British Council, "Sustainable biomass processing and conversion", £50,000. Co-investigator: Dr Tomas Ramirez Reina
- October 2017 - March 2018, Innovation Voucher, "Development of an innovative washable ceramic filter with a high surface area", £7,000. Principal investigator: Dr Bahman Amini Horri
- September 2017 - August 2018, UGPN Research Collaboration Fund, "Supercritical spray for dual fuel combustion", £10,000. Co-investigator: Dr Qiong Cai
- October 2016 - March 2017, EPSRC IAA Fund, "A low-cost electrochemical technology for water purification", £20,000. Principal investigator: Dr Qiong Cai
- September 2015 - January 2017, EPSRC First Grant, "Designing nanoporous carbons as anode materials for sodium ion batteries", £100,000. Principal investigator: Dr Qiong Cai
- October 2015 - November 2016, H2FC SUPERGEN Early Career Researcher Grant, "A low-cost carbon-based oxygen electrode for polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells", £100,000. Principal investigator: Dr Qiong Cai
- Beijing Forestry University
- Boreskov Institute of Catalysis
- Brandenburg University of Technology
- Brookhaven National Laboratory
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Columbia University
- De La Salle University
- Heriot-Watt University
- Imperial College London
- Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Science
- Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Science
- Leeds University
- Monash University
- Nanjing Technology University
- National University of Colombia
- Queen Mary University London
- Queen Mary University of London
- University College London
- University of Alicante
- University of Antioquia
- University of Bath
- University of Cambridge
- University of Cape Town
- University of Groningen
- University of Maribor
- University of Nottingham Malaysia
- University of Seville
- University of Tehran
- University of Tokyo
- University of Wollongong.
- Addionics Ltd
- Air Products
- Bio-Sep Ltd
- Celbius Ltd
- Ceres Power
- Fawley Waterside
- Fluor Ltd.
- Greenergy Ltd
- GSK UK
- Herb UK
- Inspro Ltd
- NVH Global
- Smart Separations Ltd
- The NPL.
Meet the team
Dr Tomas Ramirez Reina
Senior Lecturer in Chemical and Process Engineering / Director of Employability
Dr Lefteri Andritsos
Postgraduate research students
Project: Studying interactions between the catalytic upgrading of biomethane and fuel cells to obtain optimal flowsheets