The collaboration with Unigenova for the development of a new catalyst

– Interview with the Indian doctoral student who is studying at H2Energy –

In H2Energy, Research and Innovation are always at the forefront. In our Research & Development laboratories, led by Massimiliano Boccia, from which the new patented AMSE technology has emerged, and our first 1 MW green Hydrogen plant using PEM technology, we are studying new formulations to improve the functionality of next-generation catalysts and produce green Hydrogen under the best conditions.

For this reason, partnerships with major Italian Universities are active. Like the one with UNIGENOVA and the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry and with professor Antonio Comite which brought to Italy and to H2Energy last year, the researcher and PhD student Neethu Varghese, an expert in catalysis. Thanks to the funds from the Pnrr, we co-financed a PhD with the aim of producing a new catalyst for the development of Oxygen, which is one of the two phases for the production of H2E.

As explained by Massimiliano Boccia, director of H2Energy Research and Development : “it is very important for us to have a dedicated university researcher who studies with us the best solutions. Thanks to her study, which will last three years and will take place between our company, the UniGenova laboratories and the NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, we will test the best conditions for the production of oxygen and possibly patent a new catalyst. Today, science needs comparison and working together for sustainability, with large Italian and international universities allows us to have access to highly performing technologies and the know-how of highly competent experts”.

As Professor Comite, who is coordinating the study along with H2Energy and the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry at UniGenova, added: “Our research group has always been committed to the research and development of sustainable processes. In particular, we work on the topic of hydrogen as well as the related topic of CO2 capture and use for several years and in particular we have carried out research both in the context of industrial collaborations and European projects on the separation of hydrogen with high temperature membranes, on the development of catalysts and membrane reactors for the production of hydrogen through dry reforming and for the conversion of CO2 by hydrogenation to synthesis gas or methane. We consider the collaboration within the framework of a doctoral research with a company like H2Energy very important as it allows us to create a fruitful synergy between fundamental, applied and industrial research on energy transition issues that are very important for our country.” We interviewed Neethe Varghese to tell us about how her research is progressing in our laboratories.

Where are you from and when did you arrive in Italy?

I am from Kerala, a south Indian state and I arrived in Italy last year (November 2023) to pursue my PhD at the University of Genoa.

Did you study in Italy? Where do you live?

Before joining for PhD at the University of Genoa, I completed my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Materials Science from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India’s top-ranked University. I currently live in Genoa.

Why did you choose UniGenova? I chose the University of Genoa because of the unique PhD opportunity I was presented with. It was my passion to work in the field of sustainability and the opportunity to work in the field of Green Hydrogen was exciting.

How did you get in H2Energy?

As I mentioned, my PhD project is a close collaboration between the Unversity of Genoa and H2Energy. My work focuses on the development of new catalysts that can be potentially used in the anion exchange membrane electrolyzers developed by H2Energy. H2Energy and the Government jointly fund my PhD project. During my PhD I will be spending at least 6 months in the company as part of my research.

What do you think about Hydrogen and why you are interested in ? Green Hydrogen certainly has a very important role to play in our fight against climate change. Increasing the efficiency of electrolyzers is critical for the wider adaptation of Green Hydrogen. I have always wanted to work in sustainability and play my part in saving the environment. Given my background, I believe developing electrocatalysts for green hydrogen is the ideal fit for me.

What kind of university doctoral research are you doing in H2E?

Can you tell me more about your research? I am doing my PhD in the Membranes and Membrane Processes lab at the University of Genoa under the guidance of Prof Antonio Comite and Dr Massimilano Boccia from H2Energy. I work on developing better electrocatalysts to improve the efficiency of Oxygen Evolution Reaction. I synthesize novel electrocatalysts at the Membranes and Membrane Processes lab at the University and test their electrocatalytic activity at H2Energy’s research lab in collaboration with Massimilano Boccia and Vincenza Marzocchi.

What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is on developing better electrocatalysts to improve the efficiency of Oxygen Evolution Reaction in AEM electrolyzers and to understand the catalytic mechanisms.

How is it structured? I know you are going to Norway also. what will you study there?

During my PhD, I will conduct research at the lab of H2Energy for six months. Next year, I will also spend six months at NTNU in Norway, working with Prof Svein Sunde who is an expert on AEM electrolysers. In Norway, I will work on in situ characterization to understand the mechanisms behind the electrocatalytic activity

How long will you stay in H2E?

During the course of my PhD, I will conduct research at the lab of H2Energy for at least six months. I have already spent two months there (October – November 2023)

What do you think about our company? Which kind of Lab have you found? H2Energy is a fantastic company on a great mission full of very motivated people. It was incredible working in the lab here with Massimilano Boccia, Vincenza Marocchi, Luisa and Giulia.

Would you like to work in Italy or you want to go back to your country? I really love Italy, the culture, history and food here. The people are wonderful. Although I really would like to stay here longer, it is a complex question that depends on many factors.

What do you think about Hydrogen power and energy transition topic as a scientific researcher?

Green Hydrogen has a critical role to play in our fight against climate change. When it comes to sectors that are hard to electrify, such as heavy industries and shipping, there are few alternatives to Hydrogen. It is thus extremely important to improve the efficiency of electrolyzers to bring down the cost of Green Hydrogen and increase adaptability. H2Energy is doing a very important job in this context.


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