Using green energy to power Green Man (Day 248)

Using green energy to power Green Man (Day 248)

30th January 2015

I am always impressed by the ingenuity of our chemical engineering community to find ways to communicate about our work, so when I was contact by Erik Engebretsen a member of a team of PhD students, lecturers and industrial partners based at UCL (University College London) about their public engagement work I was immediately interested.

The team, cleverly called UCell, are based in the Electrochemical Innovation Lab (EIL), in the UCL Department of Chemical Engineering and are working on ways to produce electricity from hydrogen.

In 2011 the idea to start the initiative came from a suggestion by Ralph Clague and Ellen Dowell (the curator of Einstein’s Garden at the Green Man Festival) that it could be possible to power a small tent of electronics at Green Man using just green energy.

Ralph then began searching for UCL students interested in taking on the idea as a summer project, aiming to find a way to build a hydrogen cell system that could provide emission free power for Einstein’s garden.

With support from the EIL, Imperial College London and BOC the team succeeded in providing power at Green Man.

The fuel cell used was bolted to the floor of a garden shed backstage of the Omni-tent and was hybridised with two lead acid batteries. Control was 100 per cent manual and was not on public display. Instead, a short video was shown at the start of each performance to inform the audience of how the performance was being powered.

The success of this work lead to the team returning to Green Man every year, with improvements to and increased public engagement for their project. As the team grew to accommodate this success the UCell team was formed.

Photo Credit | UCLUCell Green Man Team 2014

2014 was a big year for the UCell team who not only returned to Green Man but also focused on engagement with schools, teaching young students about renewable energy and further education engineering options.

In October, UCell collaborated with the Greenpower Education Trust at the Goodwood Motor Circuit UK where the team met engineers from as far away as South Africa, Poland and America.

Here UCell tested their new fuel cell stack and display case, which drew lots of attention; with the public asking questions such as ‘how does a fuel cell work?’ and ‘how can I get this into a racecar?’.

This year the team hope to be returning to Green Man (as usual), but are also looking forward to setting up a new partnership at Glastonbury festival where perhaps they will meet fellow chemical engineers who last year worked on providing water- and chemical-free composting toilets which I blogged about at the time (‘No waste for music lovers’).

UCell plan to continue with their schools’ engagement work and are hoping to move their project into Scotland.

I think this team have shown excellent initiative and are filling a void that so many of us miss - the importance of public engagement in our work.


If you are bringing chemical engineering to the public why not get in touch like Erik and tell us your story.