Graphene fuels research into more cost-effective components for hydrogen-cell vehicles

May 24, 2021 | Green Innovation

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The benefit of Greater Manchester’s investment in advanced materials infrastructure has been demonstrated by international collaboration in next generation hydrogen-fuel technology.

The cost of producing hydrogen fuel cells could significantly decrease after research in Manchester created a graphene component to reduce costs.

Collaborative research has been carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University academics and representatives of an Australian company attracted to Manchester by its strengths in advanced materials.

The work could increase interest in hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels and electric batteries for powering vehicles.

Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells (PEN-FC) are already being used to power hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, with early adoption underway in mass transport and fleet markets.

Like battery-powered electric vehicles, no carbon emissions are produced but the PEM-FC has the added advantage that range can be extended by increasing fuel capacity.

However, PEN-FCs currently rely on expensive platinum catalysts for oxygen reduction reactions that must take place in the fuel cell’s cathode.

Demonstrating the impact of Greater Manchester’s investment and expertise in advanced materials research, a team working at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Innovation Centre has shown that metal oxide coated graphene is an effective cost-effective alternative catalyst.

Working alongside Australian company First Graphene, Drs Yagya Regmi and Laurie King of the Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre at MMU, tested metal oxide coated PureGRAPH® materials as potential oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts.

Initial results confirm that metal oxide coated PureGRAPH® is an effective catalyst and has the potential to be used as a cheaper alternative to platinum in the next generation of fuel cells.

Both parties will now undertake a four-month collaborative project, funded by the Manchester Metropolitan’s Business Engagement Seed Fund.

The fund supports academic engagement with industrial clients to address real-world business needs. In this case it will support the development of new products in hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

The team will focus on further optimisation of the test devices and extended comparisons with current industrial catalysts.

The metal oxide coated PureGRAPH® catalysts were manufactured using intellectual property exclusively licensed to First Graphene from the University of Manchester, and provide additional opportunities including a route to supercapacitor materials.

Dr Regmi and Dr King are recognised experts in the field of hydrogen fuel cells and recently presented to the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group.

Dr Yagya Regmi said: “These are very encouraging results. They demonstrate the potential for First Graphene’s PureGRAPH® materials to be used as catalysts in alkaline fuel cells. Subject to further optimisation, they could provide a lower cost alternative to platinum-based catalysts.”

Mike Bell – CEO of First Graphene Ltd, which has a base at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre at the University of Manchester, said:

“This is a great result that consolidates our position in the growing energy storage market. It showcases our capability as an innovative and technically capable company, willing to work with world-class research teams.”

Christopher Taylor – Manchester Metropolitan University – MFCIC ERDF Program Lead said:

“This is a great outcome. The hydrogen economy has developed at a rapid pace during the programme, and we’re pleased that FGR have engaged with us so positively.”

Tim Newns, CEO Manchester Manchester’s Inward Investment Agency said:

This collaboration between First Graphene, an Australian investor and leader in the commercialisation of graphene applications, and the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Innovation Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University is a superb example of the attraction to international investors of Greater Manchester’s leading-edge science and innovation offer.


“It truly demonstrates the city-region’s unique ability to come together and unite world-class research and expertise to enable rapid transformation for carbon neutrality.”

What does this new research mean for greener transport?

Hydrogen fuel-cells are fast becoming another alternative to carbon emitting vehicles, and alongside electric vehicles, could be the next generation of powered vehicles on our roads.

One of the biggest problems facing hydrogen fuel-cells (essentially the vehicles battery), is that they are expensive to produce due to components in the cell that use platinum.

This new research from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and First Graphene Ltd solves a significant cost-barrier for hydrogen powered vehicles. Using graphene, the world’s thinnest and lightest material, first isolated in Manchester in 2004, producers can replace expensive platinum elements for graphene parts, offering the same conductive properties at significantly reduced costs.

MMU’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Innovation Centre continues its work to research hydrogen and supporting infrastructure, with the goal of hydrogen playing a major part in the race to become carbon neutral, and revolutionise our transport system with green energy.

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