ARC Fuel Cell PhD Scholarship

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ARC Fuel Cell PhD Scholarship


Applications are invited for this opportunity which will remain open until the position is filled.

This research will develop an all oxide-based proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) technology using a recently developed sintered and heteropolyacid functionalised mesoporous silica membrane. The utilisation of all-oxide-PEMFCs using non-precious metal catalysts will significantly enhance the power density, reduce costs, and enhance the commercial viability of PEMFC technologies.

Project title

Oxide-based high temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cells

Brief description

This Australian Research Council (ARC) project aspires to develop a precious metal-free, all-oxide-based proton exchange membrane fuel cell (oxide-PEMFC) using an innovative sintered phosphotungstic acid, H3PW12O40 (HPW)-functionalised mesoporous silica high temperature membrane supported on an intimately contacted metal oxide catalyst. The central hypothesis of this research is that a derivation of fundamental knowledge about the electrocatalytic activity of these systems, along with a refinement of the oxide electrode/HPW-meso-silica membrane/electrolyte interface of the all-oxide-PEMFC will provide a technology platform to fill the significant temperature gap of 300-450 oC with existing fuel cell technologies.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) that can operate at temperatures of 300-450 oC offer significant advantages over current PEMFC technologies operating at lower temperatures (less than 100 oC). When fuel cells are directly coupled to a reformer, the use of high temperature eliminates CO poisoning of the system. For example, direct methanol and ethanol fuel cells will benefit significantly from the improved oxidation kinetics at elevated temperatures. Most importantly, at 300-450 oC, the use of a non-precious metal or metal oxide electrode catalyst in PEMFCs can be realized, leading to a significant cost reduction of this fuel cell technology. However, the present gap with this technology is that there are no proton exchange membranes (PEMs) with adequate proton conductivity and stability in this temperature range. For example, current PEMs employing existing polymeric or hybrid membranes cannot be operated at temperatures above 160-180 oC due to the thermal instability of the polymeric material. Recently, the Project Team has developed a novel concept for the development of high temperature PEMs based on sintered HPW functionalised mesoporous silica (sintered HPW-meso-silica) [1, 2]. Preliminary results demonstrate that the sintered HPW-meso-silica is structurally stable with high proton conductivity up to 500 oC. In addition to the substantially enhanced reaction kinetics, at temperatures of 300-450 oC, metals such as Ni and Ni-based cermets, well-known mixed ionic and electronic conducting perovskite oxides such as La0.6Sr0.4Co0.2Fe0.8O3-d (LSCF), Ba0.5Sr0.5Co0.8Fe0.2O3-d (BSCF), Co3O4, NiCo2O4, spinels etc. can be used as an electrode catalyst support for HPW-meso-silica membranes in PEMFCs, realising the “holy grail” of an all-oxide-based PEMFC or oxide-PEMFC technology that is operational at 300-450 oC.

It is expected that the development of an all oxide-based PEMFC technology together with fundamental research into the new oxide electrode’s catalytic behaviour, along with optimization of formation of the oxide/HPW-meso-silica electrolyte interface and proton transportation in sintered HPA-meso-silica at 300-450 oC will allow significant advancements in the field with the commercial viability of this new PEMFC technology providing Australian industry with a competitive advantage in this field, also enabling a reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Specific aims

To achieve the aforementioned overall goal, it is necessary to set the following project aims:

Aim 1 – Development of new all-solid-state electrode supported HPW-functionalised mesoporous silica membrane cells: this will involve the selection, synthesis, characterisation and fabrication of metal oxide electrode supported sintered HPW-meso-silica nanocomposite membrane cells;

Aim 2 – Characterisation of the electrode/electrolyte interfaces of new all solid-state electrode supported HPW-functionalised mesoporous silica membrane cells: the chemical and physical nature of polished cross-sections of all solid-state supported membranes will be probed using scanning and transmission electron microscopy (SEM and TEM), scanning X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (SXPS), scanning Auger microscopy (SAM), synchrotron radiation infrared microscopy (SR-IRM) and synchrotron radiation X-ray absorption near edge structure (SR-XANES);

Aim 3 – Study of proton conductivity and interfacial reaction chemistry of new all solid-state electrode supported HPW-functionalised mesoporous silica membrane cells: these fundamental studies will be undertaken using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), voltammetry in fuel cell testing and gas chromatography (GC) analysis of reaction products;

Aim 4 – Assembly and testing of PEMFCs employing new all solid-state electrode supported HPW-functionalised mesoporous silica membrane cells: this will entail the assembly of fuel cell stacks employing the new all solid-state electrode supported membranes, and evaluation of fuel cell stack performance using EIS, voltammetry and GC analysis of stack gases.


Professor Roland De Marco


  1. Bachelor of Science (Honours) with either 1st Class or 2nd Class, Division A in:
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Materials Physics
  • Materials Science
  • Materials Engineering:
  • or an equivalent discipline
or an equivalent level of attainment through alternative study, work experience, research publications, referee recommendations and other research experience; and 2. Recipients must maintain satisfactory progress as a full-time PhD candidate at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Selection criteria:
  • Undergraduate achievement in a relevant discipline; and
  • Relevant skills and/or experience; and
  • Research outputs such as publications, patents, licences, book chapters books, etc.
and one of:
  • most recent or relevant degree; or
  • most recent or relevant research experience
Eligible programs:
Number available:
Commensurate with the Australian Postgraduate Award rate - A$25,849 for 2015
How to apply for a Postgraduate Research Scholarship
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