Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Beer and Batteries in Bremen: 11th ECHEMS Meeting


📥  Seminars & Conferences

Second year student Emma Sackville recently attended the 11th ECHEMS meeting in Bad Zwischenahn, near Bremen. Here's how she got on:

What does a statue of a chicken-on-a-cat-on-a-dog-on-a-donkey have in common with electrochemistry? Admittedly not much, but I was able to experience both of them when I visited Bremen in mid-June for the 11th EChems meeting. As the conference was on a Monday I made the most of the weekend to explore the town. A beautiful little city in North West Germany, with a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site for a town centre, Bremen was hosting a festival called ‘La Strada’ during my stay. Inexplicably this included people driving round the town square on spikey quad bikes and dancing with suitcases. Whilst I still can’t tell you what the festival was for/about it did lend a certain party atmosphere to the town; who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?!

From left to right: One of the performers at the La Strada festival riding his quad bike, The famous statue of the Town Musicians in Bremen, Dancing with Suitcases!

From left to right: one of the performers at the La Strada festival riding his quad bike, the famous statue of the Town Musicians in Bremen, dancing with Suitcases!

After a very enjoyable weekend soaking up the German atmosphere, I made the short train journey over to Bad Zwischenahn where the conference was being held.

First started in 2006, the EChems Meeting is held annually to bring together researchers working in electrochemistry and its application to topical scientific problems. The theme for this year was molecular electrochemistry for application in renewable energy; an area which was of direct relevance to my own PhD research looking at molecular electrocatalysts for energy conversion. We enjoyed excellent talks in a wide range of areas, from batteries to biofuel cells and everything in between. Amongst many excellent presentations, Tsukasa Yoshida gave a particularly memorable talk about solar cells where he compared them to artificial intelligence robots that could have children and grandchildren; I’ll never think of them in the same way…!

All the conference attendees in front of the Bad Zwischenahn Lake, Plenary speaker Francesco Paolucci. Photo credits to the EChems team

All the conference attendees in front of the Bad Zwischenahn Lake, Plenary speaker Francesco Paolucci. Photo credits to the EChems team

On the last day I caught up with one of the plenary speakers, Professor Francesco Paolucci, from the University of Bologna. Given my own work in water oxidation catalysts I particularly enjoyed his talk about nano-composites for use in the Artificial Leaf, and I chatted to him about his beer preferences and what he thinks the challenges are for electrochemistry.

What did you enjoy most about the conference?

Not the weather! No seriously it was very well organised and there were lots of speakers from areas that were very different to mine. I particularly enjoyed hearing from speakers related to applications and engineering as I don’t often hear about that area so it made for a very varied programme. In general I think one of the main points of the EChems meeting is to push research in the area of molecular electrochemistry; an area which seemed to be disappearing. This is really bad because the new generation just don’t know what has been done 30-40 years ago and so you are losing some of the know-how about procedures, protocols and theoretical interpretation of data. I think this is one of the things that the EChems meetings have been so successful with over the years.

What do you think the most important challenge for electrochemistry is?

Exactly what we’ve been talking about this week; for me energy related work is the most important challenge. So managing to split water and reduce CO2 is something that should be the main focus for most of the financial schemes in the next 10 years. In fact this is what’s starting to happen. On national levels we have projects that have been funded by the national government on CO2 reduction and water splitting – they’re big, important projects and I hope they continue.

And lastly, German or Italian beer?!

(laughs) What do you think?! If it were wine it’d be different but it’s got to be German beer!

Despite not being an electrochemist by training I really enjoyed the conference. I feel that it has broadened my knowledge of areas where electrochemistry is important, and for me really highlighted its relevance and application. I would like to thank the RSC again for its generous support for my attendance.

Emma's is working towards her PhD on "Molecularly defined electro-catalysts for energy conversion and biomass valorisation" with Uli Hintermair and Frank Marken.


Could hydrogen be the answer?


📥  Events, Prizes & awards, Research updates

Second year CSCT student, Jemma Rowlandson, writes about her research topic of materials for hydrogen storage. Jemma recently won the regional finals of the Institution of Engineering and Technology's Present Around the World Competition and won a prize of £300 and a place at the national finals.

One of the greatest challenges faced by our generation is global warming. As global temperatures continue to rise, this will lead to severe and potentially irreversible climate change. The big question is, how do we stop it?

team-hydrogen1Transport accounts for a quarter of domestic carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. Not only this, but vehicles produce particles which lower the air quality and can be harmful. This is why a lot of research in the CSCT and elsewhere focuses on replacing diesel and petrol cars. One potential technology we could use is hydrogen.

Hydrogen is the most lightweight and abundant element in the universe, and it could be the answer to a lot of our problems. Hydrogen is used as rocket fuel, and with good reason; it has a very high energy density, meaning you need to use a lot less of it in comparison to petrol or diesel. Not only this, but hydrogen has the amazing potential to be completely green. This is because you can make hydrogen by splitting water, use that hydrogen to power your car, and out of the exhaust comes only water!

Although this seems like a perfect solution, there are a couple of very big problems associated with hydrogen technology. One of the most critical is that hydrogen is a gas and so very difficult to store, because it takes up a lot space. To store 4 kg of hydrogen at room temperature and atmospheric pressure (enough to get you from Manchester to London) you would need to attach about 600 party balloons full of flammable hydrogen gas to your car. Not a great idea.

So what can we do instead? Well the best way at the moment is to compress the hydrogen into a gas cylinder, at either 350 or 700 times atmospheric pressure. This in turn comes with its own problems. For a start not everyone is entirely comfortable sitting above a highly pressurised flammable hydrogen gas cylinder. The other is that this is actually very expensive! You’ve not only got the energy cost of compressing the gas, but also the cost of the cylinder itself which has to be able to withstand a car crash. If we ever want to see mass market hydrogen cars we need to drop the price of this fuel tank.

There are many different approaches to hydrogen storage; the one focused on at Bath is to use a nanoporous material. There are lots of materials to choose from but they all work in pretty much the same way, using a process called adsorption. Now this is different to absorption, which is the process of taking something in (like a sponge absorbs water). Adsorption by contrast is when something sticks or ‘adsorbs’ onto a surface. For hydrogen storage this means the hydrogen gas molecules stick to the surface of the material, packing closely together and increasing your hydrogen storage capacity. If you put this material inside a gas cylinder you could store the same amount of hydrogen but at a lower pressure, making it both safer and cheaper.


Related Post:
Jemma Rowlandson wins the local round of the IET PATW


Renewable Resources and Biorefineries Conference

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📥  Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

On 3–5 June, CSCT student Sonia Raikova attended the 11th annual conference on Renewable Resources and Biorefineries which was held in the beautiful city of York. Out of 112 participants at the conference, Sonia won the prize for the best poster! The conference was attended by delegates from academia, government and industry, as well as fellow representatives of the CSCT:  Joe Donnelly, Reggie Wirrawan and Dr. Chris Chuck

Over the course of three days, I was able to attend two excellent plenary talks, two keynote lectures, two poster tours, and frantically run around between three parallel sessions to sample as many of the 79 presentations and 17 invited lectures as I could! The talks covered a wide range of topics, from the chemical principles behind the synthesis of useful products from renewable and biological sources to economic assessments of biorefineries and the importance of policy to encourage R&D and commercialisation of renewable feedstocks and technologies, tied together by the idea of moving to an entirely “bio-based economy”. After a first day jam-packed with great talks, we were rewarded for our hard grift by a very ‘Horrible Histories’-esque walking tour of York (with constant reference to the lack of sanitation back in the olden days) and a drinks reception in the gorgeous Guildhall.

The second day was the highlight for me, kicked off by an interesting insight into the process of starting a renewable materials business from Preben Krabben of Green Biologics, followed by sessions on nutrient recovery from pleasant things like swine manure and aeroplane bathroom waste. Great scientific ideas are nothing without an awareness of the economics and politics that can enable them to actually be implemented, so it was fascinating to attend the final session of lectures discussing the importance of policy and standards in the drive towards a bio-based economy. Regular caffeine breaks were also a great opportunity to chat to academics and students from around the world. After the Thursday sessions, we were treated to an absolutely magical dinner surrounded by beautiful steam engines at York’s National Railway Museum – an evening made even more memorable by the shocking revelation that, out of 112 participants, I’d won the prize for the best poster!

Sonia avec poster

Sonia and her winning entry.

Conveniently for me, on the final day there was an entire session on microalgal technology, which I have spent my first MRes project working on, as well as Chris Chuck’s a fantastic lecture on a biorefinery based around oleaginous yeasts. I’ve come out at the end of the three days absolutely exhausted but overall, my first experience attending an international conference has been overwhelmingly positive, and finding out about all the great, proactive work being carried out to try and create a sustainable bio-based economy has left me feeling incredibly hopeful for the future.

Sonia is in her first year of the CSCT, working on her second MRes project titled "Sustainable synthesis of high surface-area, highly porous materials using gas-expanded liquids and supercritical fluids" with Dr Asel Sartbaeva and Ulrich Hintermair.


European Materials Research Society 2015 Spring Meeting

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Three CSCT students, Adam Jackson, Suzy Wallace and Oliver Weber, attended and gave talks at the 2015 European Energy Materials Research Society (E-MRS) Spring Meeting. Suzy writes about her experience:

CSCT student Suzy Wallace (left) and University of Bath student Ruoxi Yang (right) at the conference venue.

CSCT student Suzy Wallace (left) and University of Bath student Ruoxi Yang (right) at the conference venue.

The conference was held in Lille (France) from 11 - 15 May. The meeting included international workshops such as the UK-Korea workshop and 32 parallel symposia on key topics for the synthesis and characterisation of nanostructured, functional and advanced materials for energy applications, such as water treatment and splitting, photovoltaic and nuclear power generation. There was a particularly strong presence from the University of Bath at the conference in symposium D (Earth abundant and emerging solar energy conversion materials) with three talks from CSCT students, another from a PhD student at Bath (Ruoxi Yang) and an invited talk from Professor Aron Walsh from the CSCT.

I was fortunate enough to be speaking on the first day of the conference so was able to get my nerves out of the way nice and early! It was incredibly motivating to hear so many talks about the particular earth-abundant PV material I’ve just begun to study this year for my MRes project by academics from various other institutions all over Europe. Discussions with other researchers in the field after giving my talk were also great for sparking new ideas for further studies. Hearing fellow students from Bath talk about their work on different materials was also very interesting. My personal favourite nugget of knowledge here was that the Chinese translation of 'antimony' (Sb), from the PV material Ruoxi’s been studying (antimony sulphide), is 'idiot'. As well as gaining knowledge on my specific area of research during the conference, I was also introduced to some other seemingly weird and wonderful areas of research, such as studies involving skyrmions. Although they sound like evil alien invaders, it turned out that skyrmions are quasi-particles that are important in devices made from nanoscale magnetic materials.

There were poster sessions for each symposium most evenings apart from Wednesday evening. I particularly enjoyed the poster sessions (in addition to the wine, cheese, bread and various other very French treats); the sessions were a great opportunity to ask all the questions you’d rather not ask in front of a room full of people during the talk sessions. In my case, as a theorist, I seize the opportunity to badger experimental scientists to get a better understanding of their techniques. Wednesday evening was the big event with the plenary session followed by dancing. The plenary session was attended by everyone at the conference with invited talks from four academics including Professor Aron Walsh from the CSCT who spoke to the huge audience about the hot topic in the PV world - perovskites - with his talk entitled ‘Why hybrid halide perovskites keep me awake at night’ and received the EU-40 Materials Prize in recognition of outstanding contributions to materials research by a scientist under 40 years of age. This was definitely a very proud moment for the whole research group with Aron on the big stage!

Suzy is in her first year of the CSCT, working on Metastability and Octahedral Tilting in Halide Perovskites with Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Aron Walsh