Attending my first academic conference, H2FC Supergen Conference at the University of St Andrews in Scotland

The sense of adventure was heightened by the long train journey there, as part of a group of four doctoral students from the University of Bath.

July 13 2022

In June 2022 I attended the H2FC Supergen Research Conference at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. This was my first academic conference. The sense of adventure was heightened by the long train journey there, as part of a group of four doctoral students from the University of Bath. Registering at the university was quick and smooth, and our rooms were comfortable. It was after 9 pm by the time we walked through the town, but we were able to explore in daylight.

The following morning, the opening address by Prof John Irvine highlighted the achievements of the Supergen programmes, which were coming to end after 20 years. John encouraged us to maintain links and synergies as we continue to research hydrogen into the future. The following plenary presentation was by one of my PhD supervisors, Prof Tim Mays. Tim announced two EPSRC research coordinator grant awards for hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels: one for research challenges and the other for systems integration. Tim is the principal investigator of the research challenges team, which seeks to form a UK Centre of Research Excellence in Hydrogen & Alternative Liquid Fuels, or UK-HyRES. UK-HyRES will be an interdisciplinary research community focusing on technologies that are currently in an early stage of development across hydrogen production, storage, delivery and use.

Over the rest of the conference, most of the presentations I attended focused on hydrogen production, with a few about fuel cells and storage. It was encouraging and validating to realise how many of the technical details I was able to follow, given how little I knew about hydrogen technologies a year earlier. During the breaks, I had conversations with fellow researchers, and found some intersections between their work and mine. We connected via LinkedIn and will stay in touch. By the end of the day I felt a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion, from all of the stimulating ideas combined with information overload. The poster exhibition was held that evening. Several attendees seemed to be intrigued by my main colourful chart, which compares the carbon footprint of a wide variety of hydrogen production methods. I was unable to answer one interesting question about a particular production scenario, which led me to investigate it in more detail after the conference, and deepened my understanding of some of the uncertainties in the Life Cycle Assessments I had reviewed. It was also enjoyable being out of the spotlight for a while, walking around and studying the other posters, and talking about them with my fellow researchers.

There were a few interesting presentations both days on aviation and shipping fuels, which in hindsight sowed the seed for my later decision to broaden the scope of my PhD project to consider hydrogen supply pathways for road, sea and air transport, instead of road transport only. In the last session of the second day, my colleague Lawrence Shere gave a fascinating presentation on a novel method of separating hydrogen isotopes. During the closing remarks at the end of the conference, it was poignant to be reminded that this would be the last ever H2FC Supergen conference, but I left St Andrews with a sense of community and an excitement for things to come. The unexpected highlight outside the conference was eating a takeaway meal at Castle Sands after the poster session, with a dramatic evening view of the sea, cliffs and the ruins of St Andrews Castle.

© Copyright 2021 AAPS CDT, Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems at the University of Bath