With the recent IPCC report outlining the measures required to keep warming to below 1.5°C, implementing low-cost, low-carbon energy alternatives is more important than ever. With this momentum comes the need for experts to carry out strong, impactful programs to demonstrate new electrochemical technologies to the public.
The rewards of outreach for researchers and industry professionals alike do not lie just in the greater exposure of their work but also in the diverse audiences they can reach by way of public engagement. Many associate hydrogen with explosions or batteries with phone fires. One central aim of outreach is to dispel the myths about safety issues and ensure that people of all ages are fully informed of the benefits, and faults, of these technologies as they start to enter our daily lives. Engineering a low-carbon future is the responsibility of both current and future generations, which means outreach plays a key role in inspiring the next wave of scientists, engineers and policy makers.
With these aims in mind, UCell has been committed to public engagement throughout the United Kingdom for the past eight years. Based in the EIL, the Electrochemical Innovation Lab at University College London, it is in a central location, ideally situated for reaching a diverse audience and a wide range of ages. The idea for UCell was borne out of a conversation in the pub between EIL researchers and the then-curator of Einstein’s Garden, a section devoted to science and engineering at the Green Man Festival in South Wales. The idea was to power the electronics of a small tent in Einstein’s Garden by using green energy and, following a UCL summer project, to build a small fuel cell system. This system successfully supplied energy to a garden shed completely off grid, fueled only by hydrogen. One year later, the team was invited back and, in addition to powering the shed with the stack, was asked to carry out public engagement at the Energy Hub. From these foundations, a team of EIL PhD students, post-doctorates and professors developed a fully operational 3-kilowatt stack system in 2013, in time for their third attendance at the festival, to power an entire stage. The stack resembles traditional off‑grid diesel generators found at festivals but has the advantage of being emission‑free and almost completely silent. As well as leading to a lasting collaboration with Green Man, the continued attendance at the festival gave the impetus for officially founding UCell in 2013. Since then, it has grown into a thriving outreach group and a central part of EIL activities.
An outreach group for electrochemical energy based at University College London. Educates and engages the public on innovative clean energy generation and demonstrates energy conversion and storage research and concepts.
read more in H2-international April 2019
Jennifer Hack, Oscar Williams and Lara Rasha
All members of UCell, PhD students at University College London (UCL), London, UK