Developing purifiers to drive the hydrogen fuel revolution


21 September 2018 14:47
Joe Hobbs and Dr Nuno Bimbo at Lancaster's cTAP building
Joe Hobbs and Dr Nuno Bimbo at Lancaster University's cTAP Building

A new research project aims to develop novel purifiers that will help accelerate a transition from diesel powered construction machinery towards cleaner hydrogen fuel.

Researchers from Lancaster University are collaborating with Lancaster-based company NanoSUN to research materials that would be used in technology to purify hydrogen for ‘polymer electrolyte membrane’, or PEM, fuel cells.

PEM fuel cells need hydrogen with a very high level of purity to avoid contaminants damaging parts of the fuel cells.

Purifiers are needed at the location where customers would refill their fuel cells as this would reduce the cost of storing and handling hydrogen.

The three-year research project is being supported by a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, funded by Innovate UK. The funding, worth more than £277,000, will enable a dedicated researcher, known as a KTP Associate, to work on the project.

The partnership will leverage the University’s capabilities and expertise in hydrogen purification and analysis to refine and improve NanoSUN’s on-board hydrogen purifiers.

The project, which involves academic researchers from the university’s departments of Engineering and Chemistry, will also take advantage of the cutting-edge facilities at Lancaster’s £11.4 million cTAP building, which offers managed business accommodation and laboratory space exclusively for industry collaboration. NanoSUN currently benefits from hot-desking space within the cTAP facility.

Dr Nuno Bimbo, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Lancaster University, said: “This exciting 3-year collaboration with NanoSUN will be focused on the design of a hydrogen purifier that removes contaminants from industrial hydrogen streams, so that these can be used to power fuel cells.

“Fuel cells powered on sustainable hydrogen are one of the technologies that can revolutionise the energy sector, as they can convert energy efficiently with zero carbon emissions. One of the most promising types of fuel cells are proton exchange membrane fuel cells, but these are sensitive to small concentrations of gaseous contaminants such as carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulphide, which can be present in industrially-produced hydrogen. This project will design a purifier based on advanced materials that can remove these contaminants at a low cost.”

Joe Hobbs, Chief Technology Officer at NanoSUN, said: “This is an exciting project which promises to reduce the cost and widen access to hydrogen fuel. This allows customers using our equipment to access fuel supplies which are competitive with diesel, accelerating the transition to cleaner fuels and improved air quality.

“Our collaboration with Lancaster University will give us access to state-of-the-art facilities, skills and knowledge which will allow us to develop highly functional products for an identified market need.”

(A Shimadzu GCMS-TQ8040 gas chromatography mass spectrometer in cTAP)


NanoSUN responds to the hydrogen needs of fuel cell users by developing innovative products that refuel, store, purify and analyse hydrogen conveniently and economically.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide government funding programme that helps businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity by connecting them to the UK’s rich academic resources. KTPs enables businesses to access substantial funding and University expertise to deliver strategic projects.

Businesses interested in exploring KTPs with Lancaster University should contact KTP Manager Julia McFarlane by emailing j.c.mcfarlane@lancaster.ac.uk

Companies interested in finding out how they could benefit from collaborating with the University on research, development and innovation projects across the physical sciences can contact Martin Gilmore, Head of Partnerships and Business Engagement in Physical Sciences, on m.gilmore@lancaster.ac.uk

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