Honours Projects

Merlin offers 7 Honours project for 4th year students. The projects range from material synthesis to the development of frameworks for the implementation of hydrogen storage materials. The projects are on three themes:Glass-Globe-in-Grass

These projects cannot be completed in one semester and are not available for summer session. Several students can choose to work as a team on the same project.

Some of the projects offered by Merlin are highly challenging and would require a very good knowledge in basic science (i.e. chemistry and/or physics).

For more information please contact Dr. Francois Aguey.

Hydrogen StorageHydrogen storage projects

Hydrogen is the transportable fuel of the future, offering clean and renewable energy. Hydrogen is an ideal fuel once coupled with a fuel cell to drive the electrical engine of a vehicle. Nowadays, the utilisation of hydrogen as an energy carrier is limited by technical barriers such as safe storage. For example, to drive 500 km, 4 kg of hydrogen is needed to power a small car. This corresponds to a balloon of 5 m in diameter, which is not a practical solution. To overcome this problem, materials can be used to safely store the large amounts of hydrogen needed to power vehicles (Image of core-shell structures developed at MERLin for the storage of hydrogen).

Laboratory based work

The projects below will focus on two materials, magnesium and borohydrides, with the aim of improving their properties to enable the storage of hydrogen under practical conditions of pressures (< 100 bar) and temperatures (< 100 °C).

1- A chemical route for the synthesis of magnesium nanoparticle for the storage of hydrogen energy

Among the various materials of interest, magnesium is a promising candidate because it is abundant, non-toxic, and can store up to 7.6 mass % of hydrogen. However, the temperature required to do that is currently too high > 300 °C. Temperatures below 100 °C are required for practical application.

A mean to improve the properties of magnesium is to control its particles size, i.e. make magnesium particles as small as possible and with a well defined morphology. This project will involve testing different chemical routes for the synthesis of magnesium nanoparticles with a well defined morphology. The aim is to find a cost effective method to prepare and control the properties of magnesium. If you are working on this project, you will gain laboratory skills and be introduced to a range of advanced characterisation techniques specific to the field of clean energy research.

2- Core-shell borohydrides nanostructures for the storage of hydrogen energy

Borohydrides are compounds based on boron, e.g. LiBH4 and MgBH4, and contain up to 18 mass % of hydrogen. They would be ideal hydrogen storage materials, most borohydrides requires very high temperature (> 500 °C) and pressures (> 200 bar) to reversibly store hydrogen and several reactions steps usually hard to control.

Our approach to tackle these issues is to control the properties of borohydrides at the nanoscale by assembling borohydride nanoparticles “atoms by atoms” and confining these nanoparticles into a shell so that the reactions are contained. The aim of this project will be to help advancing our knowledge on the behavior on borohydrides at the nanoscale (i.e. when particle sizes are of a few nanometers). If you are working on this project, you will gain laboratory skills and be introduced to a range of advanced characterisation techniques specific to the field of clean energy research.

Projects 1 and 2 are available for: Industrial Chemist, Chemical Engineering

Difficulty: For students with a WAM ~ 80 looking for an exciting, challenging and rewarding research experience that will further enhance their skills and employability.

Reference: Hydrogen in magnesium: New perspectives toward functional stores, Aguey-Zinsou K.F., Ares Fernandez J. R, Energy Environ. Sci., 3 (5): 526-543, 2010 (http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2010/ee/b921645f)

Technology implementation projects – Feasibility studies

The materials developed in our group could find applications in the next 10-20 years. To reach this application stage we need to identify potential niche markets and barriers that will hinder the implementation of the technology. The two following projects will investigate theses issues.

3- Implementation of magnesium based materials for remote power

Hydrogen storage systems may provide the needed storage systems to back-up renewable and intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. When the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing we still need some energy. If you choose this project you will look at coupling the latest technology we have developed in our laboratory with solar and wind systems and you will be requested to provide routes for market implementation. This will involve calculating cost/benefit figures, carry out a life cycle analysis of the technology and make suitable recommendations.

4- Coupling borohydride with a fuel cell for portable electronics

Portable electronic is a huge market. With billion tablets and mobile phones on the street requiring more and more power to run, there is a clear demand for better batteries. The technology to implement fuel cells in portable electronic already exist but once more what is missing is a device small enough to store hydrogen in large amounts. Your mission will be to evaluate the possibility of implementing borohydride based systems to store hydrogen for portable electronic. You will be requested to carry out a market analysis and identify routes that would be suitable for market implementation. This will include calculating the cost for the technology to be economically viable as well as making recommendations for future research directions.

Projects 3 and 4 are available for: Industrial Chemist, Chemical Engineering

Difficulty: Average difficulty

Catalysis projects

co2 DiagramCarbon dioxide (CO2) has for long been considered has a waste and is now regarded as one of the major greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. The mitigation of CO2 emissions through capture and sequestration is feasible, but given the high cost of the technology it is unlikely to be implemented if technologies facilitating the valorization of CO2 are not developed.

On way to effectively reduce carbon emissions is to convert it back into hydrocarbon commodities. The two following projects will look at this issue.

5- Converting CO2 into fuel – optimising catalyst performances

If you choose this project, you will be in charge of optimising the performances of a catalyst we recently developed. The aim is to better understand the catalytic mechanism, so we the temperature required for the production of hydrocarbons can be reduced and heavier hydrocarbons also produced. To this aim, a range of analytical techniques will be available to you such as infra-red spectroscopy and gas chromatography.

Projects 5 is available for: Industrial Chemist, Chemical Engineering

Difficulty: For students with a WAM ~ 80 looking for an exciting, challenging and rewarding research experience that will further enhance their skills and employability.

6- Converting CO2 into fuel-s How to implement our latest catalyst

We have recently developed a catalyst capable of converting CO2 into CH4 with extremely high selectivity and conversion rates. The proposed project will look at implementing the technology at industrial scale and if you are working on this project you will be requested to carry out a full life cycle analysis of the technology as well as provide energy balance and cost/benefit calculations and make recommendations for a business case.

This project is available for: Industrial Chemist, Chemical Engineering

Difficulty: Average difficulty

Bioelectrochemistry projects

7- Electrodes for biological fuel cells – or attaching an enzyme to an electrode

Electrodes for biological fuel cellsHydrogen is the transportable fuel of the future, offering clean and renewable energy. Hence, for vehicles power hydrogen is an ideal fuel once coupled with a fuel cell to drive the electrical engine of a vehicle. However, the widespread of hydrogen use, i.e. to power cars, would be quickly limited by the small amount of platinum resources available on earth. To run a fuel cell, a platinum catalyst is needed at both electrodes. In theory, these catalysts could be replaced by enzymes widely available from the nature surrounding us. The only problem is to understand how to immobilize these enzymes at an electrode surface so that they can work for month or years.

If you choose this project, your mission will be to modify the surface properties of carbon materials in order to reveal the effect of the surface chemistry and morphology on the catalytic properties of larges enzymes. This will include implementing some chemical techniques for modifying the surface properties of carbon materials and electrochemistry method to evaluate the efficiency of your strategies.

Project 7 is available for: Industrial Chemist, Chemical Engineering

Difficulty: For students with a WAM ~ 80 looking for an exciting, challenging and rewarding research experience that will further enhance their skills and employability.