Julian worked as an IT support analyst and programmer in telecommunications and the automotive industry before his interest in climate change and sustainability led him to study a BSc in Environmental Science at The Open University and MSc in Climate Change at Birkbeck College, University of London. He was attracted to the transdisciplinary nature of the AAPS CDT, especially the opportunities in the MRes year for teamworking with students with diverse areas of expertise. Following the Integrated Think Tank with National Express in June 2021, he decided to focus on the decarbonisation potential of hydrogen to fuel road vehicles in the UK.
PhD phase – supervisory team
At the conclusion of my summer project, I received the good news that the supervisor of my summer project, Prof Marcelle McManus, was happy to be the lead supervisor for my PhD project. Prof Tim Mays, who has a wealth of experience with hydrogen technologies, became my second supervisor. We have met weekly, mostly online but sometimes in person. We get on well and I have learned a huge amount from their suggestions and advice.
First steps of the PhD
My summer project had focused on the storage and delivery phases of hydrogen supply. This left a knowledge gap regarding hydrogen production technologies, so I embarked on a literature review of this area. While searching for relevant literature, I found numerous Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of hydrogen production. Marcelle suggested that I should write a review of recent hydrogen production LCAs, with a view to possible publication. For the first four months of the PhD, I was balancing care for a family member with my studies, and my supervisors were very understanding and supportive. By early May 2022, I had completed a draft chapter on hydrogen technologies and a draft review of hydrogen production LCAs, which in shortened form became sections of my confirmation report.
An initial/pilot Life Cycle Assessment
To prepare me for the main work package of my project, I carried out a pilot or initial LCA comparing two hydrogen production pathways: A) reforming natural gas, with carbon capture and storage; B) electrolysis powered by offshore wind turbines. I gained competence with the OpenLCA software package and discovered the difficulty of obtaining recent and specific data for numerous processes and materials. I decided to explore the Python-based Brightway2 package as a faster and more flexible alternative to OpenLCA.
In June 2022 I attended the H2FC Supergen Research Conference at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where I presented a poster summarising my review of recent hydrogen production LCAs. This conference provided me with a good overview of the state of the art in hydrogen technologies that are relevant to my PhD project, and I also made a few contacts in academia. Attending presentations on the future of hydrogen-powered aeroplanes and ships led me to rethink the scope of my project, which I have now broadened beyond large road vehicles to include aviation and shipping. The following month, I gave a 15-minute presentation of my work to date at the inaugural AAPS Summer Conference, which greatly increased my confidence with presenting to a live audience.
By mid-August I had completed my initial LCA and started writing up, for another section of my confirmation report. The following five weeks were a period of intense writing and editing. The biggest challenge for me was fitting as much as possible within the strict limit of 50 pages. My supervisors provided very useful feedback for a couple of interim drafts, which helped me tighten both the quality and quantity of my writing. My confirmation viva took over two hours, but it seemed much shorter. It was an intense but enjoyable experience, and it felt more like a masterclass than an exam. My examiners asked me several questions that had not occurred to me at all. They highlighted interesting possibilities for my project and potential pitfalls along the way, and recommended some useful resources. I took a few pages of notes during the exam, and the examiners were also kind enough to send me their annotations to my report.
Over the last year, I feel I have gained a great deal of knowledge, skills and confidence, while at the same time it feels like I am just beginning my journey. Thanks everyone in the AAPS CDT for your continued support and inspiration!