Research Projects 

The Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research focuses on research and development, applications and demonstrations of fuel cell and hydrogen systems and technologies. Our activities cover a wide range of areas from developing polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC), solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) and low-cost electrolysers through to full scale hydrogen fuel cell demonstrators, such as hydrogen fuel cell hybrid cars, scooters and combined heat and power units. Birmingham is also home to England’s first public hydrogen filling station.

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New Generation Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (NewGenSOFC)
NewGenSoFC is a four-year, EU Marie Curie project running between 2014-2017.  This project combines sector-leading partners from clean energy projects to achieve allied goals of:

  • Low-cost fuel cell manufacture;
  • Low carbon energy generation;
  • Movement towards a hydrogen economy

UK and Turkish Partners (Adelan, GTU, Kale and the School of Metallurgy and Materials, University of Birmingham), are commercially validating the technical, social and financial prospects of microtubular SOFC (mSOFC) technology, invented by Adelan in the UK.

The strategic long-term vision is to innovate and commercialise low-cost mSOFCs for household energy generation, based on patented designs, integrated systems and prototypes developed in other projects. Project highlights included demonstration of small, portable mSOFC devices, the development of a commercially verified mSOFC manufacturing costs model, and a detailed report on market and environmental impacts. The project is critical to strengthening the European supply chain of mSOFC, and diversifying mSOFC technology globally. To support the growing fuel cell and hydrogen industry, partners supported international research materials, training and events for young scientists to develop careers in the field, including a Elsevier book High-Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for the 21st Century.

The project will continue with new commercial and government partners in China. Please contact Dr Michaela Kendall: m.kendall.1@bham.ac.uk for further information.

Biomass to Energy
The utilisation of biomass is entirely green. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, reduces the global warming effect. Additionally, energy sourced from biomass encourages the distribution generation which can significantly reduce the transmission emission caused in centralised power generation. Produced energy can even be fed back to the national grid (either in electricity or natural gas form) to improve the stability of power supply.

At the Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research, we are currently working closely with partners around the globe to develop a series strategy for turning waste into energy at a high efficiency through innovative methods.

  • Thermodynamic modelling;
  • Gas cleaning and sulphur removal;
  • Gas Liquefaction;
  • Combined steam and dry reforming of hydrocarbon fuels;
  • Hydrogen purification
  • Solid oxide fuel cell operation on hydrocarbon fuels;
  • Anode off-gas recirculation;
  • Anode infiltration

Low Temperature Fuel Cells
Fuel cells have great potential to help fight carbon dioxide emissions, to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons and to contribute to economic growth. Low temperature fuel cells, benefiting from a low operating temperature, high-speed start-up and shut down, have shown high potential in micro-CHP, transport and portable applications.

Low temperature fuel cell research at the University of Birmingham covers electrodes, single cells and stacks of PEFCs, DMFCs and DFAFCs, working to bridge the gap between the pure material research and the high performance fuel cell systems for power generator and transport applications.

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Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) Systems Development  
The Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research, in collaboration with industry partners, are looking into the research, development and demonstration (R&D) of SOFC power systems. The project will see the development of stacks and systems that can operate with either syngas or natural gas; focusing on the production of the fuel cells, the scale-up of stacks, hardware development and commercialisation of the technology.

Our portfolio of SOFC projects concentrate on innovative concepts. These projects conduct bench-scale R&D on SOFC stack technologies. Leveraging improvements in lower-cost materials, innovative manufacturing methods, and alternative architectures have the potential to decrease the cost of SOFC power systems. Our systems development programmes consist of conducting various energy analyses that provide contribution to decisions on technology choices for R&D and pathways to the commercialisation and deployment of SOFC power systems. We consistently work on issues such as environmental and energy security policies or resource use.

Techno-economic and social aspects of hydrogen and fuel cells
Fuel cells and hydrogen technologies are now in a stage of development where they can be offered to customers. Due to the massive scalability of fuel cells, customers range from people who use consumer electronics to grid power suppliers who need to balance renewable energy supply with demand.

Fuel cells have been able to achieve notable sales volumes, with some companies selling many 1000s of units. However, they have yet to reach mass markets; one reason for this is because they have not been targeted toward markets where they are able to outcompete both incumbent and innovative competing technologies.

The techno-economic and social research team at the University of Birmingham assesses the technical, economic and social viability for fuel cells. This divided approach allows technically feasible and economically viable markets to be identified. The social research assesses the attitudes and preferences of potential customers ensuring fuel cells and hydrogen technologies are placed in markets where a need for them exists.

Modelling Accelerated Ageing of Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (MAAD – SOFC)
The Centre have advanced computing facilities for modelling the physical processes that take place within fuel cells. The EPSRC-DST project MAAD-SOFC aims to develop a new mathematical model to describe the degradation process seen in SOFC when fuelled with biogas. The long term aim is to develop new durable materials to incorporate into a stack. With our sophisticated laboratory facilities, these models can be compared against observed phenomena. We are investigating new sulphur and carbon tolerant anodes to improve the lifetime of SOFC’s when used with biogas.

Hydrogen Separation Membranes
Hydrogen produced from natural gas reformers and from biomass sources usually contains small amounts of impurity gases, such as carbon monoxide and sulphur. A polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) converts hydrogen and oxygen gases into electricity; however, even very small amounts of impurities can reduce the operating life of the fuel cell. The Hydrogen Materials group within the University are investigating how metallic diffusion membranes can be used to purify hydrogen with certain palladium based alloys that will allow only hydrogen gas to pass through (the impurity gas molecules are too large), resulting in parts-per-billion level pure hydrogen. These materials are currently expensive and delicate so Birmingham academics are investigating how the cost of these membranes can be reduced and robustness increased.

Small 4-Wheel Fuel Cell Passenger Vehicle Applications in Regional and Municipal Transport (SWARM)
The Centre is part of a group of 17 partners undertaking SWARM. The project aims to optimise and build 100 low cost fuel cell hybrid vehicles. Our expertise will be leveraged to optimise the components and vehicle’s systems resulting in improved efficiency. There are five industrial partners: Air Liquide, Microcab, Riversimple, H2O e-mobile and TUV. The project also aims to deploy the infrastructure to support this fleet of small, efficient vehicles. Two 200kg/day hydrogen refuelling stations are planned. This will support demonstration sites in North West Germany and in Brussels.

SWARM car

Hydrogen Canal Boat
Engineers at the University have developed a zero emissions canal boat, powered by an electric motor, polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) and metal hydride storage technology. The project, in collaboration with British Waterways, is used to demonstrate and raise awareness of the practical applications of hydrogen.

Hydrogen Canal Boat

Hydrogen Train
Currently, the energy to move trains is either provided by electricity that is provided via wayside infrastructure or through the combustion of diesel on-board the train. Electrification of railway lines requires large initial investment in infrastructure and is only economically viable on routes that have a high density of traffic. The railway industry is committed to increase the amount of electrified lines, which will mean that the number of electric trains will increase further. However, there will still be a requirement for autonomously powered trains which serve the non-electrified lines. A cross-disciplinary venture between a number of Birmingham Energy Institute academics and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, developed, designed and constructed the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive.  

Hydrogen Train
Other projects:

  • SUAV
  • TriSOFC
  • Marie-Currie :NECPEM
  • Electrical Performance of SOFC in Hydrocarbon Fuels
  • Adelan Ltd Projects - Solid Oxide Fuel Cells
  • Fuel cell systems integration
  • Electrochemistry and formulation of Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

Grant applications:

We are presently in the process of applying for EPSRC and EU funding to investigate electric and fuel cell hybrid vehicles.