Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Tagged: Energy

Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference, Swansea, 2016

  , , , , , ,

📥  Comment, Seminars & Conferences

This post was contributed by Oli Weber following his attendance at the Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference (28 June - 1 July 2016).

Recently Dom Ferdani (cohort ’14) and I took a trip to the south coast of Wales to attend the 2016 Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference (HOPV 16). The venue was Swansea’s brand new Bay Campus, a huge new development of university buildings sited right by the beach of Swansea Bay. On the first conference day we were met by serious weather blowing in from the sea, leaving delegates from warmer climes wondering what manner of people could be mad enough to inhabit such a cold, damp land. Bay Campus is also the new home to SPECIFIC, the conference hosts, whose mandate is to span the space between academia and industry to develop materials that turn buildings into power stations using functional coatings. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) are one of the families of technologies developed at SPECIFIC. These rely on thin, lightweight, flexible designs and manufacturing methods, such as printing, that scale up well. Organic semiconductors, dye sensitised solar cells, CIGS and CZTS are all under research and development, however the technology that has come to dominate the research focus for this conference is hybrid perovskite solar cells.

Dom and Oli in Swansea

Dom and Oli in Swansea

Hybrid perovskites combine the properties of some of the highest quality known semiconductors, such as GaAs, with the solution processability of organic materials. This means that the solar cells could be manufactured at low cost, while still displaying the high efficiency of the best inorganic thin films. Unfortunately the hybrid perovskites are not very chemically stable and are easily attacked and degraded by water. Some of the typical device layers used in perovskite cells may also be contributing to the degradation, so it is still difficult to assess whether these materials will be intrinsically stable, over a 25 year lifetime, if they are properly encapsulated as protection from the environment. It was encouraging to see stability data discussed during the research presentations, particularly in the talk by Professor Mike McGehee of Stanford, whose group is developing semi-transparent perovskite top cells to include directly above standard silicon modules to make a more efficient tandem stack.

Other highlights for me personally were the advanced printing techniques run by SPECIFIC researchers on the day before the conference commenced, when we learnt about the pitfalls that await between laboratory scale work and development of cells suitable for bulk manufacturing at large scale. Professor Laura Herz of Oxford Physics gave an excellent presentation on the amount that can be learnt about charge carrier dynamics within perovskite semiconductors using terahertz photoconductivity and photoluminescence measurements. From the University of Bath, Professor Aron Walsh and Dr Petra Cameron both presented recent research results.

Overshadowing the whole conference was the spectre of Brexit. Many people had learnt the referendum result just before setting out to Swansea. Swansea is one of the areas of the UK that voted to leave despite receiving extensive regeneration funding from the EU; SPECIFIC itself is part EU funded. The research groups present were drawn from diverse international backgrounds and many of the research collaborations, already in progress or spawned during the conference, span the EU and further afield. One thing for certain is that the scientific community will continue to find ways to maintain their international networks and friendships whatever the political landscape. From my point of view (and that of many I spoke to) it’s frankly embarrassing that the referendum campaign was fought, won and lost on the basis of fear, lies and bigotry, drowning out all vestiges of the rational debate scientists thrive on. For a country priding itself on freedom and enterprise, we cannot claim to have a healthy political or media culture.

Sitting on the terrace of the conference hall, the beach ahead of me, it is impossible to ignore the juxtaposition of frenetic scientific activity behind me, as brilliant people from every part of the world work to develop clean energy sources for the future, with the EU and Welsh flags taut in the sea breeze just in front and, visible further along the coast, Port Talbot steelworks, in the news as 4,000 people wait on tenterhooks to hear if their livelihoods will disappear. Swansea is an area already hard hit by disappearing traditional industries, on the sharp end of globalised trade. The referendum vote has already delayed and could wreck buyout bids to retain the steelworks, with 69% of Welsh steel exported to the EU. Projects like SPECIFIC serve a dual purpose, for research and as attempts to sow new seeds of industrial activity for clean technologies for the twenty first century. If and when the UK regains political leadership, it will be up to UK government to prove it can support these activities as well as the EU did, or risk watching top researchers and research, as on display at HOPV, move elsewhere.

Oli is Cohort '13 of the CSCT, studying towards his PhD on "Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics" with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.


European Materials Research Society 2015 Spring Meeting

  , , ,

📥  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


ChemEngDay 2015

  , , , , , , ,

📥  Events, Prizes & awards, Seminars & Conferences

Four students from the CSCT: Stephen Bradley, Dominic Ferdani, Richard Maltby and Jon Chouler, recently attended and presented posters at ChemEngDay 2015, hosted by the University of Sheffield for IChemE. The event had over 350 Chemical Engineers from academia and industry. This report is written by 1st year PhD student, Jon Chouler, who also received the first prize for his poster in the Food and Water category.

ChemEngDay 2015 was held in the magnificent Sheffield City Hall, and upon arrival on Wednesday morning at 9 am,  it was clear that the conference would be a good one.  Posters were displayed on subjects ranging from food and water, to innovative materials, and engagement and outreach. Stalls from industrial sponsors were a plenty too, and IChemE also had plenty of interesting displays up.

The day kicked off with introductory talks from Prof Mike Hounslow on the history of Sheffield engineering (interestingly started off from donations by nearby workers nearly 100 years ago), and Prof Geoff Maitland about the importance of Chemical Engineering in our world. An exaltation of our importance was  enabled by an excellent “how we make a difference” through Chemical Engineering competition, where we had to write in few words on how our research makes a difference in the world.

The first plenary lecture of the day was given by Joroen van der Veer, former CEO of Shell, with some very inspiring words on scenario development for driving a business, as well as leadership models for creating change and impact in a company. As well as giving some very interesting insights into the global energy future from a petrochemical company perspective, he also highlighted the importance of young chemical engineers in inspiring the next generation of engineers.

On the afternoon of the first day,  I attended a series of lectures on water and food security. Prof David Butler discussed the impending ‘Perfect Storm’ that approaches us relating to water, food and energy scarcity. He also previewed some very interesting work that looks at addressing this issues by ‘thinking globally, but acting locally’. Jon McGagh presented on water and energy challenges that are prevalent in the mining industries in Australia, and it was hearkening to learn about how serious these challenges are to the planet, as well as the need for excellent engineers to overcome these. Lastly, Constantijn Sanders from Nestlé, discussed his perspectives on sustainable food, which myself being an avid community gardener in Bath, was very fascinating. The key to enabling sustainable food he suggested was in creating stability in access, availability and use of food. His analysis of the nitrogen cycle of growing animals for protein also highlighted that we could all create a big positive impact f we reduced our meat based food consumption. However, I don’t think some are ready to give up the steaks just yet.

With the formal lectures for the day concluded, all the attendees descended upon the beautiful Cutler’s Hall for an excellent dinner, and a chance to talk to fellow Chemical Engineers, as well as to let loose and have a boogie to the Sinatra-esque tones of the Paul Pashly Band. Stephen enjoyed it very much as you can see:

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we arrived nice and early for the final day of ChemEngDay 2015. I attended a series of lectures on Education and Outreach for engineers, which was run as a very discussion based session with a good amount of dialogue and experience sharing throughout. Jarka Glassey and Eva Sorensen gave fascinating talks on engaging and motivating first year chemical engineers through the use of problem based learning very early on in the course, which indeed sounded like a very effective learning tool for undergraduates. Mark Haw presented his work as part of Really Small Science, an initiative that engages young children through experiments and exhibits to educate and inspire them all about nanotechnology. As someone who really enjoys engaging younger audiences with my research, it was really helpful to hear the experiences of someone who does this very well.

The day progressed with a poster session over drinks (of course), where I got to present my own poster on how Microbial Fuel Cells can be used as water sensors for developing countries, as well as to peruse the excellent amount of research that is going on at various institutes for Chemical Engineering.

Poster session

The day concluded with Philip Wright giving the closing words on the day in the Memorial Hall, and also with prizes for the best posters at the conference. Low and behold, my poster received first prize in the Food and Water category and I received a shiny new iPad mini!

So all in all, an excellent conference with so many fascinating and inspiring talks. I for one will most certainly be attending next year’s ChemEngDay at the University of Bath (and not only because it’ll be very local!).


CSCT team wins Energy YES 2014

  , , , , , ,

📥  Events, Prizes & awards

On 21-23 May 2014, a team of PhD students from the CSCT took part in Energy YES, a national competition giving students the opportunity to learn about business and entrepreneurship through mentoring, workshops and pitching a business idea to a panel of "Dragons Den" style judges. PhD student Emily Hayward brings us this description of how she and the rest of Team CSCT won the top prize.

Stephen Wood, Heather Parker, Jon Wagner, Will Mahy and myself took part in the Energy YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) competition based at Alstom’s site in Rugby. The event lasted 3 days and over this time we had the opportunity to meet students from other energy related DTCs, hear from entrepreneurs about their experience setting up an SME (small and medium enterprises) and receive mentoring from a range of business experts.

Before the event we researched areas of technology where there is a gap in the market but research to fill it is still ongoing. After looking at a number of different options we decided we would look at composite materials to make lightweight shipping containers allowing a huge reduction in fuel requirements. We got the idea from the sustainable development course we did during the MRes year and looked at plausible technologies which could be used for this.

While at the event we conducted more in depth research business plan, with the help of various mentors and came up with our company “Absol Composites” based on this. There were a lot of things we had to consider, including the scientific theory of our design, financing, marketing strategies, risk analysis and IP. Each of the presenters and mentors were very helpful and we were able to gain an insight as to how to be successful, as well as hearing of businesses which have struggled to go from the R&D to full scale production. Over the 3 days our idea began to take shape with issues we needed to consider being highlighted to us.

The competition was tough with other groups presenting very strong ideas and business cases, therefore it was a real surprise to win! It was really interesting to hear the ideas other groups had and see how they had taken on board the training we were given. Along with winning a very nice trophy, we now have the opportunity to compete in the Engineering YES final in mid-June.

Conference report: RSC Solid State Group Easter Meeting 2014

  , , , , , , , , ,

📥  Seminars & Conferences

The RSC Solid State Group Easter Meeting was organised by Professor Aron Walsh (University of Bath) and Dr David Scanlon (UCL) and was held at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre in Chicheley between 14-16 April 2014. This post was contributed by 2nd-year research student Jessica Bristow.

The meeting was attended by both staff and students researching solid-state materials for energy generation, storage and conversion. Over three days multiple topics were addressed including: catalysis, battery technology, photovoltaics, fuel cells and photocatalysis.

One particular personal highlight was the talk by Professor Richard Catlow of UCL who gave a general overview of progress made in the area of solid-state modelling and catalysis. He highlighted the importance of not just trusting published data and that all available computational techniques should be used in cooperatively finding a solution, rather than trusting an individual method.

The meeting also included three excellent talks from Steven Wood, Adam Jackson and Mako Ng, studying in the DTC for Sustainable Chemical Technologies.

Steven spoke about potential materials for sodium ion batteries as an alternative to the current lithium ion batteries. Steven employs molecular mechanics as a means to theoretically predict material properties for a given application.

Adam and Mako both spoke about CZTS, a material composed of copper, zinc, tin and sulphur. CZTS is a popular future photovoltaic material with the potential to be a more sustainable choice for devices to capture the suns energy and convert this to electricity. Adam gave an overview of calculations he has conducted on CZTS, while Mako presented his experimental work synthesising large crystals of the material.

RSC SSG Easter Meeting 2014
  • Steven Wood is supervised by Professor Saiful Islam (Chemistry) and co-supervised by Dr Tim Mays (Chemical Engineering);
  • Adam Jackson is supervised by Professor Aron Walsh (Chemistry) and co-supervised by Professor Laurie Peter (Chemistry) and Dr Darrell Patterson (Chemical Engineering);
  • Mako Ng is supervised by Professor Mark Weller and co-supervised by Professor Aron Walsh and Dr Philip Shields (Electrical & Electronic Engineering);
  • Jessica Bristow is supervised by Professor Aron Walsh and co-supervised by Dr Valeska Ting (Chemical Engineering).


Conference report: Materials Research Society Fall Meeting 2013

  , , , , ,

📥  Seminars & Conferences

On 1–6 December 2013, DTC student Lee Burton attended the Materials Research Society fall meeting in Boston, USA. He describes the experience for us in this blog post.

As a PhD student I was honoured to be chosen to speak at the largest materials research conference of the calendar year in Boston, USA.

Boston at nightThe fall meeting of the Materials Research Society (MRS) brings together academics from all parts of the world each year. The huge scope of the conference was reflected in the 52 different sessions running simultaneously over a period of 5 days. The conference had an exciting dynamic brought about by countless fields of individual research that are still united by core expertise… if you couldn’t find a way to solve a problem at this meeting, it probably couldn’t be solved! Not only that but with days full of cutting-edge science and evenings packed with charged debate, it would be impossible to leave without some new ideas for future work.

My talk was on work regarding new materials for solar energy applications and is summarised as part of the meeting's blog under the section of ‘Technical Sessions’. I spoke alongside existing collaborators and was even able to pick up a few more along the way, strengthening ties between the CSCT and research centres overseas.

Lee is in the final year of his PhD, supervised by Professor Aron Walsh, Chair of Materials Theory in the Department of Chemistry and co-supervised by Professor Keiran Molloy (Chemistry) and Professor Chris Bowen (Mechanical Engineering).

Several researchers from the CSCT, including a number of DTC students, will be attending the MRS Spring Meeting 2014, which runs next week on the 21–25 April.

Conference report: RSC Solid State Group Christmas Meeting 2013

  , , , , , , ,

📥  Seminars & Conferences

The RSC Solid State Group Christmas Meeting is an annual event which aims to bring together UK researchers from topics across issues relating to solid state materials. Of particular relevance to the DTC is the strong energy contingent of this research, including solar cells, batteries, thermoelectrics and solid oxide fuel cells. The 2013 meeting took place at the University of Bath and several DTC students (including Stephen Wood, Adam Jackson and Jess Bristow) attended.

On 18–19 December the University of Bath played host to the 33rd annual Christmas Meeting of the Royal Society of Chemistry Solid State Chemistry Group. Chaired this year by Professor Mark Weller and organised by a cohort of Bath academics and students, the meeting is traditionally very open and relaxed with a significant student contribution. The meeting also aimed to showcase the breadth and depth of the world class solid state research being conducted across the UK and includes topics covering energy materials, catalysis and solid state synthesis. Being located in Bath this year there was a strong DTC presence, including students supervised by Professors Islam, Walsh and Parker. Also in attendance were representatives from SHARP, one of our industrial partners.

On view was the significant UK contribution to both experimental and computational research of solid state systems. This was typified by the three excellent plenary speakers who covered topics ranging from multiscale modelling of solid oxide fuel cell materials (Professor Graeme Watson, Dublin) through experimental studies of lithium ion batteries (Professor Christian Masquelier, Picardie, France) to unusual phenomena of oxygen in oxide materials (Professor Tony West, Sheffield).

The University of Bath was represented in oral presentations by John Clark (PhD student in Professor Islam’s battery group) who gave a well-received overview of the computational modelling of Li-ion batteries and their application to energy storage. The oral presentations were particularly appropriate to DTC students working in energy materials fields including a selection of talks on thermoelectrics, solid oxide fuel cells and batteries. Solar cell research on the other hand made a significant showing in the poster session meaning there was something for all the DTC students who attended.

Overall the meeting provided an excellent venue for DTC students to discuss current work in solid state research with over 150 researchers from across the UK and beyond. This was particularly useful for students working in energy materials fields. It also allowed several DTC students to get involved with the organisation and running of a conference; a valuable piece of experience for future endeavours.

The RSC Solid State Group Easter Meeting is coming up on 14–16 April.


Conference report: Energy CDT network

  , , , , , ,

📥  Seminars & Conferences

In September, David Miles and Lisa Sargeant travelled to Imperial College London for the annual Energy Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) Network conference. The aim of this conference was to enable students from the various different energy-related CDTs to present their research and hear about some of the latest research across the field of energy.

The talks spanned a wide range of areas related to energy, from nuclear fusion to the energy efficiency of hospital buildings. David Miles presented in the Renewable Energy session of the conference, talking about his research on nanomaterials for dye-sensitized solar cells. Lisa Sargeant also represented the CSCT by presenting a poster titled “Waste to wealth: cultivating renewable lipids from the oleaginous yeast, Rhodotorula glutinis”.

Making an unusual addition during the talks, graphic facilitator Eleanor Beer transformed the presentations into cartoons. She created four different pieces, each representing one of the conference’s four themes: Renewable Energy, Efficiency & CO2 Reduction, Energy Storage & Systems, and Nuclear. A number of talks were also given by some of the MSc students from the Energy Futures lab based within Imperial College London.

The cartoon summaries of the talks can be seen below courtesy of Eleanor Beer and the Network of Energy Centres for Doctoral Training.