Energy at Oxford Chemistry

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

Hydrogen -- the most abundant chemical element in the universe -- is an energy-rich material that can be generated from water and returns to being water when burned, making it a very strong candidate as a clean fuel.  To realize the possible benefits of a hydrogen-based economy, research at Oxford Chemistry is focused on three critical areas: sustainable hydrogen production, materials for storage and transport of hydrogen, and improved fuel cells for efficient hydrogen utilization.

Detailed, mechanistic studies of hydrogen-producing systems in nature are guiding the development of synthetic catalysts and biomimetic devices able to generate hydrogen using solar energy.  Other approaches use inorganic systems; for instance, studies of catalytically active metal surfaces have led to a system for generating "portable hydrogen" from water for small-scale mobile applications.

The difficulty of storing and transporting hydrogen is perhaps the greatest challenge to implementing a practical hydrogen fuel cycle.  Groups at Oxford Chemistry are synthesizing and studying new hydrogen-rich compounds like amines, borohydrides, and metal hydrides for use as hydrogen stores.  New catalysts are being developed to enhance the rate at which these materials take up and release hydrogen on demand.  Substantial theoretical and experimental work is also being dedicated to modeling the fundamental mechanisms of hydrogen storage, to aid in the intelligent design of higher-performance materials.