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Projects: Projects for Investigator
Reference Number EP/I004882/1
Title Multidisciplinary research into linking renewable energy with utilising atmospheric carbon dioxide and with water desalination
Status Completed
Energy Categories Not Energy Related 60%;
Other Power and Storage Technologies(Energy storage) 20%;
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells(Fuel Cells) 20%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND MATHEMATICS (Chemistry) 100%
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Not Cross-cutting 100%
Principal Investigator Dr JR (John ) Varcoe
No email address given
University of Surrey
Award Type Standard
Funding Source EPSRC
Start Date 01 September 2010
End Date 31 December 2015
Duration 64 months
Total Grant Value £1,189,478
Industrial Sectors Energy
Region South East
Programme Energy : Engineering
Investigators Principal Investigator Dr JR (John ) Varcoe , Chemistry, University of Surrey (100.000%)
  Industrial Collaborator Project Contact , Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) (0.000%)
Project Contact , Air Fuel Synthesis Ltd (0.000%)
Project Contact , Research Partner in China (0.000%)
Web Site

Note: items in {} give indicative performance targets where appropriate. Success targets are based on an increase in performance compared to the state-of-the-art in the literature.

To extend on the applicant's world leading polymer electrolyte technologies, which have been specifically developed for energy generation, by linking them to water techno logies and the utilisation of atmospheric carbon dioxide, whilst maintaining background research into alkaline membrane fuel cells to keep the UK at the forefront internationally in this field.

SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES (more general objectives can be found in the case for support):

  • - WORKPACKAGE 1 (WP1):
    • O1.1: To fully understand the behaviour of alkaline anion-exchange membranes and dispersible alkaline ionomers containing singly and in mixtures hydroxide, carbonate, and bicarbonate anions (in the absence and presence of water).
      • {SUCCESS if a carbonate-form anion-exchange polymer is synthesised with an area resistance of < 0.25 ohm cm2 or an ionic conductivity of > 35 mS / cm}
    • O1.2: To develop a fuel cell based electrochemical cell that can be fed with a fuel such as hydrogen at the anode and fed with oxygen(air) / carbon dioxide mixtures at the cathode (as from a point source such as in the post combustion stage of a coal power station) such that the CO2 is separated from the oxygen(air) stream and a hydrogen / carbon dioxide mixture is formed at the anode (which then has the potential tobe utilised for the formation of liquid fuels) with concomitant electricity generation.
      • {SUCCESS if power > 250 mW / cm2 obtained with < 100 microV / h degradation over a 1000 h test and the production of a H2/CO2 mixture of the correct ratio that can be utilised by Air Fuel Synthesis Ltd.’s liquid fuel producing technology}
      • {FAIL if power < 100 mW / cm2 obtained, or > 150 microV / h degradation over a 100 0 h test or the production of a non-usable H2/CO2 mixture}
    • O2.1: To identify the most promising operation mode, membrane and cathode type for use in a Microbial Electrodialysis System (MEDS).
    • O2.2: Todevelop a demonstratio n MEDS cell that treats wastewater with simultaneous desalination of a concentrated NaCl solution.
      • {SUCCESS if a MEDS cell removes > 93% of the salt content of a concentrated (35 g / L) aqueous NaCl solutions, whilst generating a power density of 50 W / m3 with an anode inoculated with a waste treatment pl ant sludge}
      • {FAIL if < 90% desalination or a power density of < 30 W / m3}
    • O3.1: To identify the most promising types of configuration and materials for use in Reverse Electrodesalination Cells (RED).
    • O3.2: To develop a demonstration RED device that is intrinsically resistant to biofouling.
      • {SUCCESS if power > 1.25 W / m2 obtained at 25 °C, especially with membranes that have intrinsic resistance to biofouling}
      • {FAIL if power < 0.8 W / m2 obtained at 25 °C}


  • To continue to build on Surrey’s network of industrial and academic collaborators in the energy generation, energy storage, and water technologies sectors.
  • To continue to build on Surrey’s growing IP portfolio, relating to anion-exchange and hybrid exchange (anion-cation) membrane electrolytes, and alkaline ionomer technologies, and to identify the best strategy to ensure maximised commercial opportunities.


  • D1.1:Prototype low temperature H2/CO2-mixture producing carbonate cycle fuel cell.
  • D2.1: Production of a demonstration MEDS cell.
  • D3.1: Pr oduction of a high performance demonstration RED device.
  • D0.1: Production of papers and patents as deemed appropriate.
  • D0.2: EPSRC Final Report.

The applicant is an experienced energy researcher with particular expertise in polymer electrolytes and fuel cell testing using combined d.c. and a.c. electrochemical methods. He has made a major contribution to the establishment of enviable facilities at Surrey for energy research. The anion-exchange ionomers and membranes developed by the applicant have led to a significant increase in the (international) profile of anion-exchange membrane based energy systems. Important breakthroughs include novel alkaline polymers (membranes and ionomers) with high ionic conductivities (some developments deemed highly significant and led to the filing of a Patent).

The applicant will use this opportunity to develop a broad range of interrelated disruptive technologies, to establish a focused portfolio of protected intellectual property and to further stimulate team-working between local, national, and international researchers in the associated fields; this is to draw together complimentary strands in disparate areas in a coherent manner where the commonalities are not readily obvious (a step-change move away from research that is targeted on a limited area).

The proposedresearch (managed risk profile) is focused at the highlighted research theme of Energy (renewable generation) and fully addresses the training and supply of skilled people agenda. The background research will be to continue development of novel materials (including polymer electrolyte materials, ionomers and hybrid proton-/anion- membrane systems) for clean energy generation and storage (e.g. fuel cells and redox flow batteries). However, the principal aim of the Fellowship is to extend the above technologies and link them to water technologies and the utilisation of atmospheric CO2 (this latter is highly speculative but will address the grand challenge of utilising CO2 in synthesis and transformingthe chemicals industry).

The first specific work package will be to investigate low temperature metal-free carbonate-conducting anion-exchange membrane systems: Utilisation of these carbonate-containing AAEMs in fuel cells with hydrogen fuelled anodes and air/CO2 mixed feed cathodes can set up a carbonate cycle, where the CO2 is effectively pumped from the cathode to the anode to form a potentially useful carbon dioxide/hydrogen mixture for chemical synthesis (with concomitant generation of electricity). This approach has a high impact potential, that is timely due to the only recently developed (by the applicant) high performance anion-exchange ionomeric materials; it is initially aimed at Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 1 - 4 in the innovation pipeline.

The second specific research focus (targeted at TRLs 1 - 5) is to directly link energy technologies (biological and chemical) to water technologies by: (1) extending the biological fuel cell technologies and knowledge being developed in the Supergen programme (led by Surrey) to self powering desalination systems; and (2) by applying current membranes to, and developing new biofouling resistant electrolyte membranes for, reverse electrodialysis systems.The first involves three chamber cells containing both anion- and cation-exchange systems that can be used for desalination of aqueous salt solutions using biological catalysts and organic waste water streams to self power the systems and where the waste water is also treated withpotentially zero grid electricity consumption. The second involves reverse electrodialysis where gradients in salinityare directly utilised to generate renewable electricity (i.e. UK electricity potential where river, brackish and sea waters meet).

The research will also benefit from already established UK-China collaborations (resulting from an EPSRC funded Interact grant in2006) and a newly established cross-disciplinary collaboration with the Department of Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India.

Publications (none)
Final Report (none)
Added to Database 28/10/10