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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R020914/1
Title: Ultra-Reduced Polyoxometalates as Electron-Coupled-Proton-Systems for Energy Storage
Principal Investigator: Cronin, Professor L
Other Investigators:
Symes, Dr MD
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: School of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Glasgow
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2018 Ends: 31 March 2021 Value (£): 562,057
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy Storage
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Energy Transport Systems and Vehicles
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
13 Dec 2017 EPSRC Physical Sciences - December 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
As our reliance on renewable energy sources grows, so too does our need to store this energy in order to store excess energy, & also respond when demand exceeds the generating capacity in the system. Amongst the numerous solutions that have been proposed for this challenge, two stand out in terms of their flexibility and scalability: storage of energy as electrical charge in batteries, and storage of energy via conversion to chemical fuels. Both of these approaches bring their own unique set of advantages and drawbacks, and it is often not obvious as to which would make the better choice in any particular circumstance. Against this background, energy storage solutions that can act as both batteries and fuel generation devices (depending on the user's requirements) could have a transformative effect on how renewable energy is utilised. For renewable fuel generation, the electrolysis of water to give hydrogen fuel is attractive. However, renewables tend to be intermittent giving serious problems when operating conventional electrolysers using such stop/start inputs, such as unacceptably high levels of mixing of the product gases and accelerated degradation of expensive cell components. Previously, we showed how low-power energy inputs (characteristic of renewables) could be used to electrolyse water to produce pure hydrogen and oxygen regardless of the electrolytic current density by employing a polyoxometalate cluster as soluble redox mediator (an "Electron-Coupled-Proton Buffer", ECPB) in a new type of electrolyser device. This also enabled a new approach to be taken to on-demand hydrogen production via electrolysis: the hydrogen can now be produced remotely from the electrochemical cell over a fixed catalyst bed, increasing the rate of H2 production by a factor of over 30 compared to state-of-the-art proton exchange membrane electrolysers at equivalent catalyst loadings.

However, our previously-reported systems all suffer from rather low electron storage densities: normally only two electrons can be stored reversibly per mediator molecule, which means that large volumes of solution are required for decoupled electrolytic hydrogen production. The large volumes of solution involved also preclude the use of the reduced electrolyte as an energy storage medium in its own right: as so much liquid is needed to store a few electrons it is not practical to use this as a long-term energy carrier (e.g. in a redox flow battery). If the number of electrons stored per mediator molecule could be increased by an order of magnitude, then one would have a viable electrolyte system which could be reduced in an electrochemical device using renewable power inputs, and then directed either to decoupled hydrogen (fuel) production or used as a high energy-density electrolyte in a redox flow battery (direct energy storage), see Figure 1. Such a system would have the potential to completely revolutionise the storage of renewable energy.

Here, we aim to investigate a new range of polyoxometalates as redox mediators that can be reduced by at least 18 electrons per molecule. Preliminary results indicate that the some POMs can be reversibly reduced and re-oxidised by at least this number of electrons in aqueous solution, provided that the concentration is high and the pH is kept below a certain value. With this as our starting point, we will use our expertise in the construction of polyoxometalate-based electrochemical devices to develop systems that can hold an ever-greater number of electrons per volume of electrolyte. At a fundamental level, we will apply a battery of cutting-edge techniques to unravel the underlying causes of the remarkable stability of these ultra-reduced species in aqueous solution, and develop models that explain the nature of these species. We will explore the use of new POM-based materials and device architectures in order to produce energy storage systems with the maximum flexibility and energy density.
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