Electrochemical Innovation: from concept to commerce

1 November 2011

EIL Battery

With low emission energy high on everyone’s agenda, electrochemical technologies offer a viable source of green power and low-carbon manufacturing. That’s why UCL’s Electrochemical Innovation Laboratory (EIL), which is developing novel power sources and chemical process technologies, is generating excitement in industry as well as research fields.

The EIL is a totally new form of industrial engagement, bringing UCL’s strengths in electrochemical technology together with commercial expertise to bring about more efficient development of products.

Business nous from the start

The EIL was created by Prof Stef Simons and Dr Dan Brett of UCL’s Centre for CO2 Technology, and Dr David Hodgson, an industrialist and consultant in the development and commercialisation of IP. They recognised that bringing an industrial perspective to research at an early stage, during fundamental research, would help to identify opportunities with potential commercial uses.

According to Dr Brett, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering, “If you want to commercialise your research, there are lots of things you need to think about early on – like scaling up and business plans – and if you don’t, you hit a wall. But input from industry partners right from the beginning allows us to start asking the right questions early on, so hopefully the wall doesn’t exist when we get further along.”

Spinning-in

It’s common for research teams to start up spin-out companies. But what about spinning-in? That’s exactly what the EIL has done. They’re making use of the IP, expertise and equipment of a company called CMR Fuel Cells, who are developing advanced fuel cell technologies. CMR now operates in partnership with UCL using EIL facilities and working with UCL researcher to develop the next generation of low-cost fuel cell materials..

Dr Brett said, “This type of spin-in structure could never have happened without the excellent flexibility of UCL Business and their support for the EIL. It’s unheard of.”

High-demand research

Of course, all this commercially-linked activity is attractive to students, who are often keen to move straight from studies to industry. “The students are queuing up to work on our projects!” said Dr Brett.

“There are so many things for students to research that have a real chance of being turned into a prototype within the course of a three year PhD and actually go on to generate funding. That’s exciting and inspiring stuff. So it’s no wonder there are lots of knocks at my door.”

Rhodri Jervis, a PhD student working with Dr Brett said, “Working with industry has given me regular lab contact with fuel cell engineers of vast knowledge and experience. Seeing things from both the academic and industrial perspectives helps me envisage the full scope of the project. It’s been invaluable.”