Screen-printed electrodes promise reliable source of power to off-grid communities

Screen-printed electrodes could help bring a renewable and sustainable source of energy to communities isolated from the electricity grid.

Hydrogen electrolyser (Colin Keldie)

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University are to print large volumes of inexpensive electrodes for use in electrolysers, which break water into its component oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be stored or transported and supplied to fuel cells to create electricity.

The project is said to build on Manchester Metropolitan University’s proof-of-concept work into finding an alternate way of manufacturing electrodes that are usually reliant on components made from expensive platinum and iridium.

Craig Banks, Professor in Electrochemical and Nanotechnology at the University, will lead a team in screen printing a succession of electrodes with graphene-like nanotechnology embedded in the fluid carbon-based printer ink.

The screen-printing technique, which will take place at the University’s £4m Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre, would enable the electrodes to be printed in novel geometries as well as allowing them to be mass produced.

Prototype electrodes will be fitted into a stack of water electrolysis cells that then will be ‘harsh weather tested’ on Orkney. The researchers are collaborating with the Orkney-based European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) based to investigate the capabilities and performance of the screen-printed electrolysers, the cells and the fuel cells.

Six months of electrode development at the university will be followed by the installation of the electrolyser stack in Scotland, and connection to a renewable energy system. This will be followed by a further six months’ testing.

Research associate Dr Samuel Rowley-Neale said: “The electricity generated by wind, wave, tidal and solar power is often ill-correlated to consumer demand and typically has to be fed into the National Grid where it is used instantly or must be expensively captured somehow, such as in a battery – which has issues with degradation – or else the turbines have to be shut off to ensure the generated electricity does not overload the electricity grid.

“That means it is difficult to balance the electricity being generated to the level of demand.

“In contrast, an electrolyser creates hydrogen that can be easily stored and physically transported as a gas with no deterioration and then later fed into a fuel cell for conversion to power when needed.

“And unlike the burning of fossil fuels, the only by-product is oxygen and some water that are harmless to the environment.”

The electrolyser cell casings will be 3D printed at the university’s new digital training centre PrintCity that opened this spring.

The project has received EPSRC funding worth £100,000.