Educating tomorrow’s fuel cell researchers

© University of Birmingham

Fuel cells are highly productive systems for converting energy from hydrogen into electricity. Their conversion efficiency of 50 percent to 60 percent has made them a subject of intense interest among stakeholders in the EU’s current and past research framework programs. However, if there is to be a concrete implementation strategy to introduce zero-emission power generation throughout Europe, one will need not only systems based on the technology but also skilled personnel to operate them.

The increasing amount of electricity that is generated through renewable energies, particularly wind and solar, has prompted growing demand for storage technologies. This demand can be met by hydrogen, through electrolyzers and fuel cells, and batteries, both of which will offer options for electrochemical storage and subsequent electricity generation. Moreover, power-to-gas and power-to-fuel technologies have opened up new opportunities to provide, in the form of hydrogen, renewably sourced power for other energy markets, such as fuel production and trade or, through pipelines, the gas sector. Hydrogen can contribute a great deal to decarbonizing our energy network – if there are enough people with knowledge of the associated equipment.

The Strategic Energy Technology Plan, created by the European Commission in 2014, put the number of people in need of proper training and employment in the field by 2030 at 200,000 technicians, engineers and researchers. Considering the duration of training and the rapid deployment of battery, fuel cell and hydrogen units, the current number of available professionals must see a dramatic increase, even if many technicians and engineers who have already found work today will have to shift their attention to the design and operation of battery or hydrogen and fuel cell systems.

JESS program

To educate tomorrow’s specialists, JESS, the Joint European Summer School, offers university graduates high-quality courses on fuel cells, electrolysis and batteries. These courses originate with a 2004 training program that was part of the EU project Real-SOFC. At the time, education focused on solid oxide fuel cells only, but the scope of the sessions was extended between 2010 and 2012, during TrainHy, to include a class on low-temperature fuel cells. Batteries and electrolyzers were added a while later.

The Joint European Summer School, which will again take place this year, has been available in its current form since 2013. What once was a one-week seminar has been turned into a two-week event. In the second week, attendees acquire specialized knowledge of, for instance, hydrogen safety and fuel cell vehicles.

JESS is mainly targeted at university students who have obtained their bachelor’s, master’s or PhD degree. But experienced researchers and engineers are likewise invited to participate and benefit from a more in-depth look at new technologies, build a knowledge base for a new employment position or collect points for the Continuing Professional Development program.

JESS will be co-organized by the University of Birmingham and the Jülich Research Center, in cooperation with RWTH Aachen University and the Technical University of Denmark.


Written by Robert Steinberger-Wilckens,University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

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