Design of materials and joints for hydrogen service (MaHy)

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Location/Division: Cambridge

PhD Studentship - Design of materials and joints for hydrogen service (MaHy)


Institution: National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSIRC)

PhD Supervisor: Dr Shiladitya Paul and Professor Hongbiao Dong

Application Deadline: Ongoing

Funding Availability: Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)



As decarbonisation is sought for many industries, including the Energy, Marine and Transport, designers and asset owners are looking towards low carbon (or carbon-free) sources of fuels. One such proposed fuel is hydrogen which is heralded as the most likely candidate to replace hydrocarbon-based fuels. Thus, it is imperative that materials used for generation and/or containment of hydrogen are suitable for service. Several engineering materials are currently used for hydrogen service, but due to the lack of confidence in their design life a lot of design redundancy is in place which makes them more expensive or bulky. To reduce the weight of structures, high strength steels need to be used but the mechanical properties of high strength steels can be degraded by hydrogen. It has been widely reported that upon reaching a critical concentration of solute hydrogen, the materials’ plasticity loss can be realised and can result in premature failure due to hydrogen embrittlement (HE). Further complications are introduced when welded joints or dissimilar materials are considered. To mitigate risks associate with failure of containment of hydrogen, full degradation mechanisms of high strength steels need to be understood and incorporated into the design framework.


Project Outline

The project will, first, identify the gaps in knowledge related to materials design for hydrogen service. Subsequently, experimentation and modelling would be carried out to understand the mechanism of hydrogen generation and ingress in, and associated degradation of, high strength steels. Electrochemical methods will be used to generate hydrogen on the surface of High strength steels by cathodic polarisation. In some cases, dissimilar material couples will be used to simulate galvanic interactions seen in welds. The surface of the steel will be characterised using non-contact 3D profilometry to understand the effect of surface topography on hydrogen ingress. Diffusion of hydrogen through the steels will be measured using a custom-made Devanathan–Stachurski (DS) cell. The effect of temperature and media on hydrogen diffusion will also be explored. Additional tests will be carried out to understand the effect of stress on HE. 

The project will use characterisation tools, such as SEM/EDX, TEM to understand the microstructure of the selected alloys. Thermal desorption techniques will be used to quantify the amount of hydrogen. The combination of these techniques will provide more information on the mechanism of hydrogen ingress and trapping. Modelling tools (MATLAB, COMSOL etc) will be used to model hydrogen diffusion through the high strength steel with input from the experimental data.

Key words: Hydrogen Economy, Devanathan–Stachurski cell, high strength steels, renewable energy, hydrogen embrittlement, Hydrogen service, Electrochemical hydrogen generation, corrosion, cathodic protection


About University/Department

The University of Leicester is one of the UK's leading universities, committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. The University of Leicester has once again been named as one of world’s best universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) world rankings. Leicester retains its spot as one of the top 25 UK universities featured in the prestigious list, after being ranked 23rd in the list of UK universities featured in the top 200. The University achieved an overall global ranking of 170.

Leicester is leading the IMPACT CDT programme. The IMPACT CDT aims to train the future technical leaders in metal processing with the required combination of experimental, analytical, computational and professional skills that are needed to lead innovation. This multi-disciplinary training programme provides students from different disciplines with coherent knowledge of a range of metal processing technologies and develop their expertise in solving industrially relevant problems, to enable the UK manufacturing industry to remain the most innovative and greatest value added globally.



NSIRC is a state-of-the-art postgraduate engineering facility established and managed by structural integrity specialist TWI, working closely with lead academic partner Brunel University, the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Loughborough, Birmingham, Leicester and a number of leading industrial partners. NSIRC aims to deliver cutting edge research and highly qualified personnel to its key industrial partners. 


Candidate Requirements

Candidates should have a relevant degree at 2.1 minimum, or an equivalent overseas degree in Materials Science, Engineering, Physics or Chemistry. Candidates with suitable work experience and strong capacity in metallurgy, numerical modelling, corrosion and electrochemistry are particularly welcome to apply. Overseas applicants should also submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable.


Funding Notes

This project is funded by the University of Leicester, Lloyds Register Foundation and TWI. The funding covers the cost of Home/EU tuition fees and a standard tax-free RCUK stipend for three years. Non-EU students are welcome to apply, but the funding will only cover the cost of overseas tuition fees and the applicant need to self-fund their living cost for three years.





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