Flow synthesis of organic monomers for fabrication of next generation anion-exchange membranes with enhanced durabilities in fuel cells and electrolysers.

This organic chemistry-focused, materials-related PhD studentship will involve use of our new, state-of-the-art flow reactor to synthesise the novel monomers needed to fabricate improved anion exchange membranes. These will be used in fuel cells and electrolysers, thus this project will contribute to the development of a future hydrogen-based (fossil fuel-free) economy.

Start date
1 April 2021
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
The University of Surrey
Funding information

Stipend: £15,285 per annum


In order to mitigate climate change, clean energy conversion technologies are required to store renewable energy produced in times of high production but low consumption.  Part of the key to this is moving to a hydrogen-based economy involving interconversion of electricity from renewable sources, water and hydrogen.  This is facilitated by fuel cells and electrolysers, which must be inexpensive, efficient and durable.  Alkaline anion exchange membrane (AAEM) devices employ solid polymeric electrolytes which conduct hydroxide ions and have the advantage of functioning with low (ultimately eliminated) loadings of precious metal electrocatalysts, reducing cost.  However, careful design of the membrane is required to give it both high ion conductivity and chemical stability.  At the University of Surrey, we have been involved in this research for decades and our radiation-grafted AAEMs show world-leading performances, but improvements in durability are still required.  The monomers employed in our radiation grafting of commercial films give co-polymers whose functional groups permit conversion to the positively charged head groups that yield the desired anion-conductive membrane. 

This PhD research project, supervised by Drs Daniel Whelligan and Peter Roth and part of a larger £1M UK project led by Prof John Varcoe (alongside Newcastle University, EPSRC grants EP/T009233/1 & EP/T00939X/1), involves the design of novel monomers which will make anion exchange membranes with high hydroxide conductivities and increased stability to both alkaline conditions and reactive oxygen/radical species (these are generated as side products during the electrocatalytic reactions).  Efficient synthetic routes to these novel monomers will be devised and optimised on our new, state-of-the-art flow reactor.  This will permit immediate scale-up to produce hundreds of grams of monomer whilst removing the hazards of large-scale batch synthesis.

Related links
Professor John Varcoe CSci Chem FRSC EPSRC

All monomers, intermediates and membranes will be fully characterised on our suite of analytical instruments including 400 and 500 MHz NMR, Agilent QToF 6550 LCMS, Metrohm Autotitrators, and high spec Raman microscope.  Final anion-exchange membranes will also be tested inside a single cell fuel cell.

Eligibility criteria

Candidates must hold a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Chemistry.

This studentship is available for UK or EU students. 

IELTS requirements: 6.5 (6.0 in individual units).

How to apply

Apply online via the Chemistry PhD programme page by selecting the ‘Apply’ tab then ‘Chemistry PhD, full-time, Jan 2021’ and completing the forms and uploading the documents stated therein.

Application deadline

Contact details

Daniel Whelligan
36 AZ 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689592
E-mail: D.Whelligan@surrey.ac.uk

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