Research

Our aim is to develop “intelligent” materials that will be capable of providing solutions for future energy systems to be clean. Our core expertise is in hydride materials and we are developing ideas to control and confer to these materials “intelligence”, i.e. intelligence to adapt to changing environments, to respond to various stimuli and adopt protective defence mechanisms.

Our vision is applied across four main themes:

Hydrogen storage

With a high chemical energy density and zero emissions when produced from renewable resources, hydrogen is set to become a major fuel of the future, bridging the gap between intermittent renewable and rapidly depleting fossil fuels. Hydrogen can be used across a wide range of applications, from portable electronics to energy distribution systems within the grid, and transportation. The single largest challenge remaining in its implementation is storage. Hydrogen may be stored as a gas, a liquid, or bonded within a solid material. The latter is the safest approach and has a relatively high volumetric capacity –a requirement for the practical use of hydrogen as a clean energy vector.

Many hydride materials can store hydrogen by absorbing it like a sponge. However, very high temperatures > 400 °C or pressures > 200 bar are often necessary to absorb or release hydrogen from materials. At Merlin our approach to solve this problem is to engineer hydride materials “atoms by atoms” so we can accurately tailor their properties for given applications.

magnesium nanoparticles can be made so hydrogen storage

Metals hydrides such as magnesium will burn under oxidising condition, i.e. once exposed to water for example. We have developed new strategies to enable the safe use of magnesium nanoparticles.

 

Metal/air batteries

Metals such as Li, Mg and Al can safely deliver significant amounts of energy through their reaction with oxygen. Control of such a reaction and reversibility would provide a solution for clean and high density energy storage devices.

Heterogeneous catalysis

Hydride materials have the ability to deliver hydrogen in a reactive form and thus capabilities for activating molecules and their conversion into valuable products. At Merlin, our current efforts are focusing on the conversion of CO2 into valuable hydrocarbons. The aim is to achieve efficient catalysts capable of harnessing CO2 for gas flues with direct conversion into liquid hydrocarbons.

Enzymatic catalysis

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) can readily convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. However, in a PEMFC both electrodes require a platinum catalyst. Given the scarcity of platinum, we are looking for alternatives. One solution would be to use enzymes, e.g. hydrogenase, that could be easily grown in tomorrow’s farms. However, the lifetime of an enzyme at the surface of an electrode is rather short (a few hours to a few days). At Merlin, we are developing new strategies to immobilize enzymes at carbon electrode surfaces.

Smart windows

Metal hydrides can undergo shifts in their electronic properties as they absorb or desorb hydrogen. In a thin film configuration, a magnesium coating of a few nm will shift from a reflective state to a transparent state as hydrogen is absorbed.

Reflective metallic magnesium thin film Transparent magnesium after hydrogen absorption

At Merlin, we are aiming at controlling the reaction so the thin film can be cycled more than 1000 times without deterioration. The coating is only transparent to visible light. So, the technology could be used for climate control application in buildings, for example.