Nina studied at Leeds university for an integrated masters with a year in industry in chemistry. During her four fantastic years of study, she enjoyed it and learnt a lot, however her main interests were in; the characterisation of inorganic compounds; chemistry of combustion and atmospheric chemistry. She also enjoys cycling and she has recently converted her conventional road bike into a full electric bike.
During her placement year she worked as a laboratory technician at an oil refinery in north east Lincolnshire. Although the oil refinery bragged about its carbon capture programme, it was a polluted environment with lots of greenhouse gas emissions released constantly. Billowing smoke and blazing flares was an eye opener to how anthropogenic activities like the oil refinery are destroying our world.
Her final year at Leeds saw her working on her masters project in crystallisation chemistry. More specifically the characterisation of the crystal growth of calcium sulfate using x-ray diffraction. It was a hands on project with the modification of flow reactors so that the characterisation was as clear as possible. She immersed myself in the research and found that she excelled in this way of learning. In addition, her research group of like-minded scientists made it enjoyable for her and she felt part of a community. Doing a PhD excited her and she felt inspired by her masters project.
When discovering AAPS Nina was surprised at how it mixes combines the work of different disciplines into ways of providing cleaner transport systems. To see that she could mix her passion for cars and bikes with chemistry into a PhD was a dream come true. When offered a position with a project in hydrogen fuel cells at AAPS she genuinely could not have been happier. Her project is looking at hydrogen fuel cells. Although hydrogen fuel cells are a not often seen in cars, they have incredible potential for long-haul transport and in aeroplanes. With AAPS's welcoming community, she has no doubt about how much she will enjoy her time here in Bath, Nina is very excited for her future which she hopes will bring us closer to a cleaner world.
Nina's project will harness new topology electrode nanomaterials developed in our laboratory, for applications in fuel cells used in transportation. Their unique nanostructures give enhanced reactivity and stability compared with nanoparticles currently used. The technology is “platform agnostic” in terms of fuel, with properties and reactions common to a range of fuel cells. Nina's project will explore their use in fuel cell reactions and devices, bridging the gap from preliminary data to real world applications and commercialisation.
Electric Vehicles are key to reducing carbon emissions. While rechargeable batteries are likely to be the main technology for cars, there are long-distance applications (boats, planes, lorries, trains) for which the energy density by weight of batteries is too low, and alternatives are required. Fuel cells overcome this problem. In a fuel cell, electricity is generated by an electrochemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen. Powering vehicles in this way uses 50% less fuel than a combustion engine, and the energy density of typical fuels is tens of times greater than that of lithium ion batteries, whether by weight or volume. [1,2] However, wider commercialisation of fuel cells is currently limited by catalyst performance, cost and stability.
Our team has recently developed a route to new nanostructure topologies for high performance electrodes in fuel cells. The process is green, mild, and industrially scalable, and can be used to grow a range of different metals. The electrodes comprise 3D nanowire networks, which give ultra-high surface areas; high stability, avoiding the use of nanoparticles, which present a major limitation on current device lifetimes; and high reactivity. The technology has been adopted widely, and superior reactivity and stability have been demonstrated in the oxidation of alcohols, glycerol  and formic acid .
Our electrode materials are “platform agnostic” in terms of fuel. There are potential advantages and disadvantages to each of hydrogen, alcohol, and formic acid, and future adoption depends on advances in green methods of production – respectively through water electrolysis, biofuel, and CO2 reduction. Underpinning all of these fuel cell types is the counterpart oxygen reduction reaction, for which superior activity and stability have also been reported for electrode materials similar to ours. Whichever technology wins out, our materials can therefore play a part.
This project will extend the previous work in three directions:
New reactions: characterise our materials’ performance towards the hydrogen oxidation and oxygen reduction reactions
New devices: incorporate our electrode materials into membrane electrode assemblies and evaluate their performance in fuel cells acting under “real” conditions
New metals: our method has so far been applied to platinum and palladium.