Pollution Know-how and Abatement project


Keele University’s Professor Maria Heckl has been awarded a €4 million grant from Horizon 2020 to support the development of emerging technology solutions that could replace fossil fuels and provide low-carbon energy solutions for combustion engines.

Combustion of hydrogen from renewable sources is an emerging technology; traditional combustion engines rely on fossil fuels which release carbon-dioxide when burnt, contributing to rising carbon emissions and climate change. However, when burnt with oxygen, hydrogen is a ‘zero-emissions’ fuel - meaning it only produces heat and water, providing a ‘clean’ energy alternative.

Horizon 2020 is the largest ever European funding programme for research and innovation, which aims to ensure that Europe produces world-class science, remove barriers to innovation, and makes it easier for public and private sectors to innovate together.

The Pollution Know-how and Abatement project (POLKA), led by Professor Heckl, will include 17 education and industry partners from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, India and the Netherlands, and will address the technical challenges of hydrogen combustion.

The goal of POLKA is to create new physical insights and advanced simulation tools to underpin the development of hydrogen-fuelled combustion systems such as gas turbines, aero-engines, boilers and furnaces. The project will also develop solutions to the technical challenges which are unique to hydrogen combustion: thermoacoustic instabilities and flashback.

Thermoacoustic instabilities are large-amplitude pressure oscillations caused by an escalating interaction between the flame and acoustic waves; they tend to occur unexpectedly and cause major hardware damage. Flashback is the phenomenon of the flame propagating backwards into components not designed for high temperatures.

Professor Maria Heckl commented: “The POLKA project will use a combination of experiments, numerical simulations and analytical techniques, and will train a cohort of 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), each enrolled in a three-year doctoral programme. The project will be divided into 15 interlinked sub-projects, each forming an individual PhD project for an ESR, who will be equipped with a wide portfolio of skills, including traditional academic research, and also transferable skills in outreach and gender equality issues.

“This will be supplemented by a unique integrated training programme in innovation, exploitation and entrepreneurship. Secondments are an important part of the training programme - the ESRs will develop an innovation-oriented mindset and have excellent career perspectives in the renewable energy sector.”

The POLKA website will feature an extensive range of open-access training resources, which will be maintained beyond the formal end of the project. POLKA has a balanced consortium, both in terms of gender (five female and six male main supervisors), and in terms of sector (six academic and four industrial beneficiaries).

Keele University’s Institute for Sustainable Futures is leading the way in smart and low-carbon energy research, using Keele’s unique campus setting as a ‘living laboratory’ where innovative approaches to low-carbon energy can be trialled. Key to this is the HyDeploy project, a pioneering hydrogen energy project which aims to reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions through blending Hydrogen with natural gas for cooking and heating buildings and homes across the private gas network on Keele University’s campus.

The HyDeploy project is the first UK practical deployment of hydrogen onto a live gas network since the transition from town gas. Successful demonstration of the project has the potential to unlock savings of £8 billion to customers and avoid 120 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

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