Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Tagged: Fuel cells

Fuelling the future at the world’s 3rd largest automaker

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📥  Internships & visits

As a brilliant way to get some industrial experience under my belt, shatter my second year blues and to see more of the world, I secured an internship within the research arm of General Motors, one of the great American engineering companies, who in January 2016 were announced as the world’s third largest automaker. I was lucky enough to be put in contact with Dr Anne Dailly, an experienced researcher in the field of energy storage materials, who was immensely helpful in setting up and performing the internship. Shortly after securing my place in the organisation and getting an exchange visa from the U.S. government, I arrived in Warren, MI (just outside of Detroit) in June 2016 eager to kick off my internship.

A Chevrolet Colorado turns statue on the South-West corner of the GM Technical Center campus in Warren, MI

A Chevrolet Colorado turns statue on the South-West corner of the GM Technical Center campus in Warren, MI

I was based on GM’s Technical Centre campus in Warren, a large area of land owned by the company that houses many of its design and research employees. I was working in a relatively modest building on the north end of the campus, but some structures there, such as the vehicle engineering centre, were huge structures housing as many as 10,000 design engineers! The physical size of the land was also imposing, taking 10 minutes to cycle from one end to the other, but served as an excellent illustration of the resource available to the company, and I was excited to learn how that would manifest in the research lab environment.

The Research and Development Chemical Engineering Lab (RCEL), where all the magic happened.

The Research and Development Chemical Engineering Lab (RCEL), where all the magic happened.

I was primarily working with Dr Dailly, looking at boosting the energy content of natural gas fuel storage systems. This was an interesting experience, as we were testing non-conventional equipment for this process, and my role was to try and determine whether a) this experimental protocol was valid and b) what the benefits were. The experiments took a long time to complete and I unfortunately had to return home early, so we weren’t able to complete what we had set out to do, but I still had a very worthwhile experience of life in an industrial research setting, and how the challenges of that environment could be very different to those of university-based research.

I also had the pleasure of attending a couple of meetings to listen to what kind of research was being done by the wider research team at GM. While this information is commercially confidential (and therefore cannot be discussed here), there were some fascinating presentations dealing with a wide range of issues, ranging from fundamental exploratory science to dealing with problems reported by GM customers.

Chevrolet Corvettes new and old on display at the Technical Center

Chevrolet Corvettes new and old on display at the Technical Center

Whilst I was staying in Warren, which is largely a suburban city without a huge number of touristy-type attractions (at least within walking/cycling reach), I did have the opportunity to go into Detroit itself on a couple of occasions. The city has a bad reputation based on the economic struggles of the area and the levels of crime in the inner suburbs, but downtown Detroit is actually a bustling metropolis with lots going on, and I felt it was as safe as any other American downtown. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a concert on the waterfront (next to the Detroit river, and with Canada just across the water!) and to attend a Detroit Tigers baseball game, which was really exciting. I had a great time in Detroit, and would definitely suggest that you shake off the stereotypes and visit the downtown.

All in all, I had a great experience working with GM, one that I was very grateful to both Dr Dailly and the team at GM for making happen and to the CSCT for the generous funding. I met and worked with some great people in a new environment, learnt about the benefits and challenges of industrial research, and came back to Bath refreshed and motivated heading into the final year of my PhD.

Leighton is in the 2013 Cohort of the CSCT and is now in the final year of his PhD: "Design of Safe Hybrid Hydrogen Storage Tanks" with Professor Tim Mays and Dr Andrew Burrows.


Conference Report: The H2FC SUPERGEN Hydrogen Researcher Conference 2013

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

In December 2013, CSCT students Jemma Rowlandson and Leighton Holyfield (cohort 5) and Jess Sharpe (cohort 2) attended the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell (H2FC) SUPERGEN Researcher Conference. This report comes from Jemma.

The H2FC SUPERGEN Hydrogen Researcher Conference took place from 16th-18th December at the University of Birmingham. The Bath Hydrogen Team was in attendance, including Dr Tim Mays and his group: DTC students Leighton Holyfield and Jess Sharpe (both co-supervised by Dr Andy Burrows), post-doc Nuno Bimbo and PhD student Antonio Noguera Díaz. The other half of Team Hydrogen comprised of Dr Valeska Ting, her PhD student Andrew Physick and myself: DTC first year Jemma Rowlandson (co-supervised by Professor Steve Parker). The H2FC SUPERGEN conference is primarily aimed at providing PhD students and early career researchers an opportunity to present their work. The talks and poster sessions covered all aspects of hydrogen research from solid oxide and PEM fuels cells to hydrogen separation, storage and production.

Team Hydrogen at the H2FC SUPERGEN Conference

Team Hydrogen at the H2FC SUPERGEN Conference

The conference kicked off with an excellent introduction by Professor Nigel Brandon of Imperial College London,  who gave an overview of the use of hydrogen and fuel cells in low carbon energy systems. Other keynote speakers included several industrial experts including a memorable talk by Ceres Power. Ceres developed a unique solid oxide fuel cell designed to operate at far lower temperatures of 500-600°C, with an ingenious steel cell design which reduced costs and made for a relatively straightforward fuel cell stack manufacturing process.

Unusually, but importantly, the conference included an interactive panel discussion of early career researchers, including Bath’s very own Prize Fellow in Smart Nanomaterials Valeska Ting. The panellists shared their career journey so far, gave recommendations and answered any questions from PhDs and post-doctoral researchers interested in an academic career.

A special mention should go to DTC fourth-year student Jess Sharpe, who gave an exceptional presentation on ‘Modelling hydrogen storage in nanoporous materials for use in aviation’. Considering not everyone is comfortable with computational chemistry she managed to captivate the audience and presented her research in a clear and succinct way. The final presentation from Dr Kerry-Ann Adamson of Navigant Research certainly made for a memorable end to the conference. The presentation focused on bringing the hydrogen industry forwards away from predictions of a hydrogen economy in ten years time, because consumers are ready to invest in hydrogen technology right now.