The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s BP Hutton Prize in Energy Innovation was awarded to Dr Cairong Jiang of the School of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews. This prestigious prize, funded by the BP Trust, and carrying a prize of £10,000, is awarded to an early career researcher based in Scotland, who has shown a significant individual contribution to energy innovation through research and knowledge exchange.
Dr. Cairong Jiang, who recently received a Scottish Energy News Researcher of the Year award from Heriot-Watt University, has made a major contribution to energy development through her extensive work on direct carbon fuel cells (DCFCs). She has developed a practical system of converting the chemical energy of solid carbon into electricity. This electrochemical device generates a performance ten times higher than 100 mW cm-2, which is a value from a commercial molten carbonate fuel cell. This is an excellent example which highlights the potential prospects of DCFCs for practical applications. The research that she is involved in offers the clean utilisation of coal, waste and renewable carbon sources at high efficiency and merits development as a realistic alternative technology.
On receiving the award, Dr. Jiang said, "It is a great honour to be the recipient of this prestigious reward. It means a lot to me. It is not only the recognition of my past work but also encourages me to do more and get more people involved in this energy field in the future. This award will give me opportunity to exchange knowledge and take my research a step further for commercialisation."
The 2013 winner of the BP Hutton Prize in Energy Innovation was Professor Lee Cronin FRCS FRSE, Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, in recognition of his leading edge research in developing PROMISE: A Fuel-Cell-Electrolyzer Platform for Sustainable Energy Storage Realized via renewable "Inorganic-Fuel".
Humanity depends on fossil carbon, but with CO2 levels above 400 parts per million, the race is on to develop cleaner energy systems. There is a need to aim for new methods of energy storage, the conversion of wind and sunlight to fuel, and atmospheric CO2 fixation-activation. Solutions must not only be cheap and scaleable, they must also be socially and politically acceptable, if human life is going to prosper beyond the end of this century.
Professor Cronin's work focuses on addressing this topical social issue and he plans to commercialise his research through the formation of a spin-out company. The funding from the BP Hutton Prize has been used to conduct a "proof of company" project with the aim of developing a real world electrolyser/fuel cell system that delivers 80% cost reduction over existing systems. The PROMISE technology is unique in delivering the benefits of both battery based energy storage and electrolysis. The spin-out company will exploit a major materials innovation from the University of Glasgow that converts surplus renewable generated electricity into a liquid fuel which can then be converted to hydrogen or electricity. Potentially this innovation could be deployed in solar and wind installations worldwide and accelerate renewable systems as a replacement for fossil fuel generated power.
The RSE is delighted to announce that Dr David Wright, who is based within the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, has been awarded the first RSE/BP Hutton Prize in Energy Innovation, for his research entitled “The detection of oil and gas from surface-based electromagnetic measurements”.
As background, during the data analysis David carried out as part of his PhD, he made a breakthrough which has resulted in the development of an innovative method for the detection of oil and gas reserves both on and offshore. The method involves injecting a large predetermined electric current source signal which is transmitted into the earth and the voltage response of the earth to this signal is measured along a dense line of receivers up to 10 km from the source. The shape of the source signal is modified between source and receiver by the earth. The recorded data can then be analysed to determine the resistivity structure of the earth to depths currently approaching 3 km. Normally, the pores in rocks are filled with salt water, which is electrically conductive. Oil and gas are very resistive. If the brine is replaced by migrated oil or gas, the rock becomes more resistive. Multi Transient Electro Magnetics (MTEM) can help distinguish the resistivities of subsurface rocks.
The primary tool for hydrocarbon exploration is seismic reflection surveying which essentially uses sound waves to image geological structures using their sensitivity to rock density and velocity contrasts. A limitation of the seismic method is that it has poor sensitivity to the fluid content of a rock. EM data combined with seismic data can not only find structures that are potentially oil-bearing, they can also indicate whether the contained fluids are resistive or conductive. MTEM can, therefore, de-risk exploration wells and has the potential to save billions of dollars per year.
David plans to use the money he receives from the RSE/BP Hutton Prize in Energy Innovation, to fund up to three student internships to enable promising students from anywhere in the world to come to Edinburgh and carry out original research within his group. These students may be recent BSc, MSc or PhD graduates. The projects would be designed to focus on a specific area of the MTEM technique where an innovative development could result in a valuable advance in the application of the method.
David was also one of the three founders of the University of Edinburgh spin-out company MTEM Ltd. The company has exploited the MTEM technology and in 2007, MTEM Ltd was bought by Petroleum Geo-Services for £137 million, which is the highest paid by a trade buyer in this sector outside the US, and the second highest ever paid for an early stage technology company in this sector. The University of Edinburgh received approximately £8.6 million, £2.6 million of which was set aside to fund 164 PhD studentships.