Fuel cells convert fuels such as hydrogen or methanol directly to electrical energy by reaction with oxygen in an electrochemical cell. Unlike heat-engines, fuel cells are not limited in the efficiency of their conversion of chemical potential to energy, and hydrogen fuel cells are pollution-free in that their only by-product is water. A key component of most modern fuel cells is a very thin polymer membrane containing anionic groups that enable the transport of protons (but not electrons) from the anode to the cathode, and the lecture will focus on recent developments in polymer chemistry that enable fuel-cell membranes to operate successfully at high temperatures and under conditions of low humidity. The development and application of such membranes for hydrogen generation from renewable resources will also be discussed.
Following degrees from Cambridge (MA, St Catharine's College) and London (PhD, Westfield College, 1975), Howard Colquhoun carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Warwick and then joined the ICI Corporate Laboratory in Cheshire. In ICI, he worked initially on coordination chemistry but later moved into the fields of high performance polymers and membrane chemistry. He held a Royal Society Industry Fellow at Manchester University from 1994, and was appointed to the newly-established Chair of Materials Chemistry at the University of Reading in 2000. His work focuses on supramolecular polymer chemistry and on ionomer membranes for fuel cells and water purification. Awards for his research include the RSC Medal and Prize for Materials Chemistry (2006), the ScD degree of the University of Cambridge (2008), and the MacroGroup UK medal (2012). From 2012 to 2015 he was President of the Materials Chemistry Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry.