CleanH2 is a cooperative and interdisciplinary basic research project at imo-imomec funded by BOF (UHasselt) with the common objective to contribute greatly to a fundamental understanding of how to improve the efficiency and stability of water splitting processes and to use this knowledge to create major breakthroughs, notably in affordable ways to convert sunlight into storable chemical energy.

In addressing the world’s “wicked problem” of sustainable development, CleanH2 will tackle one of the biggest concerns of our society: how can we marry a continuously growing energy demand with a significant reduction of our environmental footprint? Solar energy is a non-polluting and renewable source and has the potential to drive sustainable energy systems and to meet all our energy needs. However, its diffuse and intermittent nature requires an efficient harvesting strategy coupled to an effective method for storage for a possible use-on-demand on global scale. Generating alternative chemical fuels from renewable energy sources via solar-driven electrochemical water splitting represents a game changer and one of today’s grandest challenges. CleanH2 will address the critical issues to make hydrogen production green, efficient and affordable via solar-driven water splitting.
CLEANH2 is an inherently interdisciplinary project, being at the intersection of material science and chemistry, solid-state physics, electrochemistry, electrical and flow process engineering and techno-economics. The project will cover the complete value chain from (i) the design and synthesis of light harvesting and electrocatalytic materials, towards optimal composition and morphology, (ii) create novel synthesis routes, whilst evaluating their atom and energy efficiency, allowing to control the material’s properties including light absorption, crystal phase, size, morphology, porosity, surface, etc, (iii) deep spectroscopic and microscopic characterization through dedicated tools in order to gain new insights into key structure-morphology-function relationships, (iv) the evaluation of the basic material’s functional properties, either as solar absorber material and, as electrocatalyst in independent components, (v) the integration of the different components together with the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) towards a complete solar-driven water splitting system, and finally (vi) their evaluation in a real lab-size operational environment. We will evaluate the techno-economic aspects of each of the development steps in regard to the material selection, production and use. CLEANH2 thus encompasses synthetic chemistry, materials science, device physics, fundamental engineering and techno-economics. This interdisciplinarity and complementarity of expertises is the main strength of the current consortium, which is mutually reinforcing each other in order to achieve the ambitious goals set out in CLEANH2.

CLEANH2 is an ambitious project in which each promoter provides expertise that is essential for the realization of the proposal, in a highly concerted nature. CLEANH2 involves the most advanced scientific techniques and a powerful synergy among 1) chemists to design and synthesise novel stable and efficient solar harvesters and earth-abundant catalysts, 2) physicists to tackle experimental and theoretical problems in describing, characterising, understanding and tailoring electron-transfer and charge transport phenomena, 3) engineers to measure and benchmark parameters of interest of the different critical sub-components, and to evaluate their joint behaviour and, 4) economists for economic analysis and environmental impact studies. The project co-promoters have been chosen for their complementarities of expertise and the well-functioning infrastructure at their disposal, providing a mutual reinforcing capacity, indispensable to answer CLEANH2 research questions and to achieve the intended scientific breakthroughs. There are several earlier and existing collaborations between the co-promoters which benefit the project. CLEANH2 combines the complementary expertise of:
Prof. dr. Dirk Vanderzande, who is leading together with Dr. ir. Laurence Lutsen (imec-imomec), a newly (10/2015) established research group Hybrid Material Design (HyMaD) at UHasselt. The activities focus on the design of true hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites, in which the organic component is designed to add opto-electronic functionality to the material. In the first place the work aims at disclosing design rules for such materials, their structural characterization and optical properties. For the design of the organic building blocks the group relies on the vast experience of more than 25 years of the PI’s on the design of organic semiconductors for LED, transistor, and solar cell applications. A strong collaboration exists with prof. dr. Koen Vandewal concerning advanced optical characterisation and device physics of materials developed in the group. HyMaD’s contribution in CLEANH2 focusses on the design and synthesis of perovskite materials for tandem solar cell devices.

Prof. dr. ir. Koen Vandewal who is leading a young (01/2018) research group with the aim to solve fundamental questions in organic, hybrid and molecular electronics with relevance in opto-electronic devices such as OLEDs, sensors and solar cells. He is well known for his seminal work on the characterization and description of charge-transfer states at organic interfaces. In CLEANH2, prof. dr. K. Vandewal will contribute with his expertise in the fabrication and characterization of thin film photovoltaic devices based on hybrid perovskite materials, as well as advanced device characterization and device physics.

Prof. dr. An Hardy who is leading together with Prof. dr. M.K. Van Bael the group of MATCHEM DESINe. She specializes in synthesis of inorganic nanomaterials with controlled (nano)structure and composition: oxides, phosphates, polyanionics, metals, and most recently sulfides. Mastered wet chemical synthesis routes include aqueous and non-aqueous sol(ution)-gel, hydro/solvothermal, thermal decomposition, co-precipitation. The DESINe group synthesizes materials for use in electrochemical devices including lithium ion batteries, sodium ion batteries and Li-S batteries. She is collaborating with prof. dr. M. Safari in running projects (VLAIO SBO project XL Lion, H2020 project Solidify). They jointly supervise 5 PhD students and have joint publications. With CLEANH2, their joint activities will expand from galvanic to electrolytic cells.

Prof. dr. ir. Mohammadhosein Safari who is leading the group of Engineering Materials & Applications. His research centres around fundamental engineering of electrochemical systems such as batteries with a focus on porous electrode engineering, charge transfer kinetics at reactive interfaces, charge transport in ionic media, and electrochemical devices. Since he joined UHasselt in 2016, he is strongly involved in the development of next generation of advanced batteries and, jointly with prof. dr. A. Hardy, takes responsibility over UHasselt energy storage activities within the EnergyVille. Collaboration with prof. dr. R. Malina recently started with a jointly supervised PhD student for the techno-economic modelling of batteries in the smart grid.

Prof. dr. Robert Malina is director of the Centre for Environmental Sciences (CMK) and head of the Environmental Economics Research group within CMK at UHasselt. His focus-areas are techno-economic assessments of clean technologies, in particular renewable energy. Prof. Malina brings to the consortium his long-standing experience in extended techno-economic assessments that not only account for economic aspects within technology development but also broader societal considerations. Moreover, prof. Malina has extensive experience in project work that spans across the boundaries of specific scientific disciplines, in particular by working together with engineers, physicists and chemists in discipline-crossing consortia such as envisioned for CLEANH2. Prof. Malina has been cooperating with the DESINe research group in the INTERREG Project EnOp, and with the Engineering Materials & Applications group through joint PhD supervision.

None of the co-promoters would have had all the different competencies, scientific equipment, financial and human resources to lead and to bring this project to success alone, or at a single UHasselt institute level.

Contact at EnergyVille
Laurence Lutsen
Strategic Research Manager at EnergyVille/imec-imomec

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