Accelerating collaborative research (ECR Collaboration Fund)

Dr Shervan Babamohammadi (a postdoctoral researcher with a PhD on CO2 absorption using Amine-based solvents) and Mr William (Billy) Davies (a first-year PhD student who graduated from Queen Mary University with a chemistry and coding background) are part of Dr Salman Masoudi Soltani’s research group at Brunel University London.  They were awarded funding in the UKCCSRC Collaboration Fund Call 4 and used it to collaborate with Dr Peter Clough and his research team at Cranfield University.


We both joined Brunel University in 2022, and our research is focused on process modelling and optimisation of clean hydrogen production via sorption-enhanced steam-methane reforming (SE-SMR) for combined carbon capture and hydrogen production. I (Shervan) work on process synthesis and design, modelling and simulation of blue hydrogen production processes, and I (Billy) focus on applying machine learning to optimise blue hydrogen production.

When we were looking for a research group to collaborate with, we found Dr Peter Clough, a Senior Lecturer at Cranfield University and an academic member of UKCCSRC, whose research is truly relevant to our research. In the articles we read about SE-SMR, one of the authors is usually Dr Peter Clough. I (Shervan) met Dr Clough in person at UKCCSRC Conference in Sheffield in April 2022 for the first time, and it was very enlightening to listen to his talks, research ideas and his vision on CCS and Net-Zero. We were thrilled that he welcomed our proposal to collaborate when we approached him.

Another reason that motivated us was the HyPER project that Dr Clough led at Cranfield University. The HyPER project is an innovative clean hydrogen production technology that aims to demonstrate a lower-cost route for bulk hydrogen production in the UK. The pilot plant is a 1 MW sorption-enhanced steam methane reforming (SE-SMR) system and is part of a programme of Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funding amounting to more than £8m in development and expertise. The project provides a unique platform for research centred on low-carbon clean hydrogen production via SE-SMR. It was an excellent opportunity for us to gain first-hand experience in setting up the HyPER pilot plant and get familiar with the real-world challenges of processes that we are modelling and optimising in computer software. Moreover, it brought opportunities for establishing a constructive long-term collaboration between two research groups at Cranfield University and Brunel University, since both work on CCS and Net Zero emission.

Our plan consisted of two visits. The first was for us (Shervan, Billy and our supervisor, Dr Salman Masoudi Soltani) to meet Dr Peter Clough, his team, and colleagues and to visit the HyPER project at Cranfield University. The second visit was for Dr Clough and colleagues to visit Brunel University to present their work on HyPER, Bio-HyPER, and other CCS projects they do, and to finalise our plans for research and collaboration. Our main aim for this collaboration was to establish a foundation for future research projects based on the expertise and facilities available in both institutes, as well as to visit the HyPER project and learn about the challenges and opportunities of pilot plants for research. The visits could also potentially lead us to initiate a research project focused on blue hydrogen or alternative clean fuel for the Net Zero future.

Visiting Cranfield University and the HyPER project, Nov 2022

Cranfield University is a postgraduate research university with a spacious campus occupied with labs, research centres, and embedded businesses. Dr Clough welcomed us before heading to a meeting with his research group, where we introduced ourselves and our research. We met Dr Monica da Silva Santos, a postdoctoral researcher of Dr Clough’s team who works on sorption-enhanced gasification of biomass for hydrogen production. She also spoke about another project on amine emissions which was interesting, especially for me (Shervan) since I worked with amines in my PhD. Her experience in process modelling and experimental work brought us closer for more talks during the day.

We also met Dr Tosin Adedipe, the Technical Project Manager of the HyPER project. Dr Adedipe’s background is offshore energy asset and risk management, and it was not surprising that a big project like HyPER needed a professional project manager. During her talks, we gained very insightful information about the current situation and challenges of the HyPER. It was also a fruitful meeting to formally meet Dr Clough’s PhD students, including Siqi Wang, Ziqi Shen and Serap Ozmen, and learn about their research projects. After this meeting, we visited the lab facilities around carbon capture and hydrogen production. The labs are well equipped and established, especially for synthesising ad/absorbents and testing them for CO2 ad/absorption.

On day 2, we met Dr Ali Nabavi, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Renewable and Low Carbon Energy, Cranfield University. His research on developing novel CO2 sorbents was fascinating and we learned a lot about his innovative ideas on adsorbent preparation.

Next, it was time to visit the HyPER project. The HyPER project aims to develop a world-leading pilot plant hydrogen production with integrated carbon capture. The plant is a state-of-the-art SE-SMR plant that will produce high-purity H2 with about a 97% CO2 capture rate when operational. This process will aim to produce H2 at a 50% reduction in the CAPEX and a 25% reduction in the Levelized Cost of Hydrogen compared to conventional blue hydrogen production methods like steam methane reforming with CCS or auto thermal reforming with CCS. This project started in the summer of 2019 in phase one for the feasibility stage, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic put the world in lockdown. The project developed further to phase two, the demonstration phase, by securing £7.4m funding.

At the time of our visit, hard work was going on at the site to assemble all the equipment and make the plant ready to run. The project is conducted in collaboration with Altrad Babcock as the engineering partner and GTI Energy as the technology owner. The project will help to improve the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) from 4 to 6 based on GTI Energy’s novel Compact Hydrogen Generation (CHG) technology.

Visiting the HyPER. From left to right: Shervan, Peter, Billy, Serap, Salman and Monica

On day 3, we had a final meeting to discuss the areas in which two research groups at Cranfield and Brunel University could collaborate. It was a fascinating brainstorming exercise in which many research ideas were discussed and, in the end, wrapped up with a final potential project for future collaboration. This research idea is around clean energy, focused on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). We both learned a lot during our visit to Cranfield University and meetings with Dr Clough and colleagues.

Hosting our collaborator at Brunel University London, Dec 2022

A few weeks later, it was time for us to host Dr Peter Clough and his team, Dr Ali Nabavi and Dr Monica da Silva Santos. We invited academics and colleagues, both from our department and others, to join us as they presented their work on carbon capture and hydrogen production. After the Q&A session, we hosted a networking lunch so that everyone could discuss their work in detail face to face. After lunch, we took our guests on a tour of our department’s facilities before giving them a further tour of the campus and ETC’s facilities. The day ended with a presentation delivered by our research group.

Peter presenting his projects at the Chemical Engineering Department, Brunel University London

The next day was our final meeting, intended to summarise the outcomes of the visits. Within the meeting, we identified and outlined two main projects for further collaboration. We’re now working on the first steps of both projects.

During the collaboration, we established an excellent foundation for future research, and were able to visit the HyPER project and gain first-hand experience in the engineering, construction and operation of the pilot plant. We also initiated one research project around blue hydrogen production, and another on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production. We were also pleased to host a networking lunch and a seminar for our institution.

These collaboration visits would not have taken place without the support of the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC) and their ECR Collaboration Fund Call 4. We are very grateful to the UKCCSRC for giving us this opportunity and thank all UKCCSRC members for their support.