Engineering Design of a Novel Water Electrolyser for Hydrogen Production - Engineering - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2905

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Dr Xiaohong Li
Professor Tapas Mallick

Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project Description
We are seeking applications from enthusiastic graduates for a three and half year PhD studentship to develop a novel alkaline SPE electrolyser cell for green hydrogen production. The project will be based in the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter, which offers the very latest academic, research and residential facilities.

With a carbon-constrained world now a certainty, hydrogen is expected to provide a central solution to our needs for a sustainable fuel for future transport requirements. Water electrolysis provides a clean route to hydrogen from water without the consumption of fossil fuel or the emission of CO2, in which, the acidic solid polymer electrolyte (SPE) water electrolysers have a substantial improvement of conversion efficiency and are commercially available. However, until now they only offer expensive hydrogen because of its heavy dependence on precious metals as catalysts and using expensive membranes. 

This project therefore aims to develop an alkaline SPE electrolyser cell for hydrogen production in high efficiency and cost-competiveness. The research activity will be built on the research group’s previous work, which shows a number of non-precious metal catalysts that possess relatively low over-potential but give good performance for oxygen evolution in alkaline media. Specifically, the first research task is optimisation of the composition of the selected catalysts and fabrication of the nanostructured catalysts. The second task is to investigate the catalyst deposition method on the membrane. The third task is then to construct a membrane-electrode-assembly (MEA) which is the heart of the cell and to integrate components into an alkaline SPE water electrolyser cell with a desired performance.

You will research into a field, in which, the research group is in a pioneer position. Upon completion of the PhD programme, you will become an expert, especially in MEA design and development. MEA is the key component to and has a wide application in water electrolyser and metal-air battery technologies. You will acquire a range of technical skills that are highly valued by practitioners. You will have access to advanced characterization facilities within the college.

We are seeking UK candidates with a minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) first degree in Materials Science, Chemistry, Energy Engineering or Applied Physics. This 42 months studentship will begin in September 2018 and will cover UK tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate of £14,553 per year. EU awards are fees only. 

The project will be supervised by Dr Xiaohong Li and Professor Tapas Mallick. For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor Dr Xiaohong Li (

Entry Requirements

You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Materials Science, Chemistry, Energy Engineering or Applied Physics. Experience in electrochemical technology is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email:
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.