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A University of Ulster researcher has been awarded a prestigious fellowship to explore graphene as a new catalyst material for fuel cells.

Pagona Papakonstantinou, a Professor of advanced materials in the University’s School of Engineering, has been honoured with the Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The fellowship will allow Professor Papakonstantinou’s to investigate the unique features of graphene, a newly discovered form of carbon, for developing new cheap catalytic materials. Graphene is a layer of carbon one atom thin, which possess exceptional electrical and structural properties.

“During the Fellowship I will use graphene to develop non precious metal catalysts with improved efficiency and longevity. Current fuel cells need platinum to facilitate the reactions that produce electricity, which is very expensive,” Professor Papakonstantinou said.

“Eliminating platinum would solve a significant economic challenge that has impeded the widespread use of fuel cell systems into electric vehicles as well as portable and stationary devices.”

Professor Papakonstantinou, who works in Ulster’s Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Research Institute, is one of only five researchers awarded the national accolade this year.