Dr Jessica Allen
School of Engineering
- Phone:(02) 40 339359
Energy technologies with an eye to the future
Dr Jessica Allen is developing commercial energy technologies for today and for the future, as part of her research within UON’s Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technologies and Utilisation.
Having gained experience in both industrial and research fields, Jessica is well placed in her steering of the team’s fundamental electrochemistry research into the direction of commercial application.
Engineering the future
Jessica always enjoyed maths and physics when she was at school, and when it was suggested she pursue a degree in engineering, she decided to attend a UON Information Session to find out more.
“A girl stood up and talked about how much she loved the degree - she'd gone on exchange to Canada, gone snowboarding and all of these amazing things while she was studying.
“I thought, ‘That sounds amazing, sign me up!’” Throughout her Chemical Engineering degree, Jessica undertook a vacation project working on hydrogen production at CSIRO’s Energy Centre.
Although hydrogen fuel cell cars are zero-emission, the process of making the hydrogen is not. Currently, all of the hydrogen we use is derived from methane, a process which generates carbon dioxide.
Jessica was working on making hydrogen production emission free.
“Around the end of my project, Emeritus Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist was visiting and he’s a bit of an electrochemical guru.
“He was telling me, ‘You can't just look at the engineering side of it, it's that oxidation reaction that we really need to focus on.”
With support from Sten-Eric and UON’s Professor Scott Donne, Jessica proposed a PhD project which would allow her to carry on with her work, focusing on the oxidation of sulphur dioxide in the hybrid sulphur cycle.
“The hybrid sulphur cycle is an alternative approach to hydrogen production which combines both thermal and electrical inputs, so the whole thing can be powered by solar alone.
“The reactions take place in an electrolyser, where we force them to happen by applying an electrical current.”
Throughout Jessica’s PhD, she worked on the development of a catalyst for the electrochemical oxidation of sulphur dioxide.
“Since I’ve finished my studies, there’s actually been a massive undertaking in Europe on this because it was pinpointed as the most promising thermochemical cycle for large scale hydrogen production.
“There’s been a lot of commercial development in the last 5 years and they've cited us quite heavily - which is nice to see.
“That’s all taking off quite a bit now and I'm looking now at the possibly getting back into that work since I already have history in that area.”
New directions in research
Following her PhD, Jessica was offered a couple of post-doctoral positions from universities from across the world.
She instead chose an entirely new direction - which would prepare her well for the pursuit of her future endeavours.
Jessica started work with a Central Coast based start-up commercialising new energy technologies.
“I’d been doing fundamental electrochemistry for three years and I wanted to get back to my engineering roots! “I wanted to try my hand at something different and I thought, ‘This is the go for me. ’”
The company was working to develop a large scale slow pyrolysis process for biochar production – throughout her time there, Jessica saw multiple stages of the project progress.
“That experience of the technology development chain is what’s given me the confidence with my current project.”
Jessica is now working alongside her colleague and mentor Professor Scott Donne to spearhead the development of a commercial scale model of a direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC).
The DCFC is twice as efficient as coal-fired power stations – while modern power stations can typically operate at up to 40 per-cent efficiency , DCFCs can potentially run at 80 per-cent.
“The traditional way of getting energy from coal is to burn it to get thermal energy. That heat then boils water which makes steam, which drives the turbine which moves magnets and makes electrical energy.
“So each time you transform energy, you lose efficiency. “With the DCFC, the chemical energy is directly transformed into electrical energy.”
Within a fuel cell, the fuel is separated from the oxidant – spontaneous electrochemical reactions between the two generate electrons, and the movement of these electrons is what makes electrical energy.
The process is particulate free, alleviating the health problems associated with smog. It also enables easy carbon-capture, as the emitted CO2 is pure and so doesn’t need energy intensive treatment before the carbon is sequestered.
“It's a game changing technology.
“We all know we need to start transition away from coal, but that’s not going to happen immediately.
“The DCFC would allow infrastructure development to begin to transition from fossil fuels responsibly, since they can be operated on any carbon fuel source.”
The team have been awarded a $1.6 million project grant from the NSW government to move forward with the commercial development of the fuel cell, building on five years of fundamental research.
“We have the aim of making the technology available for $10K for a 10kW unit.
“It’s an ambitious goal for this new technology, but we can’t just drag this on for the next 10-15 years in the research phase. It needs to be commercially interesting so it needs to be soon.
“It’s now or never.”
Dr. Jessica Allen has a multidisciplinary background spanning both chemical engineering and chemistry. She has worked in both industry and academia on projects spanning fundamental research to commercial design. Dr Allen completed her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the University of Newcastle before taking up a PhD in chemistry with the CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle. After completing her PhD, based in fundamental electrochemistry, Dr Allen accepted an industry position as a project/research engineer with start-up technology company Pacific Pyrolysis. In her time with the company she also completed a secondment with Ignite Energy Resources, based on the same site, as an operations engineer. Dr Allen returned to academia in 2013, taking up a post-doctoral position with the University of Newcastle in the Applied Electrochemistry group, part of the Faculty of Science and IT. Dr Allen was then appointed in 2017 as a lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Newcastle, and as a principal researcher for the Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technologies and Utilisation.
Dr Allen has worked and published extensively in:
- Low emission coal (direct carbon fuel cell)
- Renewable energy systems for biomass and solar thermal (pyrolysis, molten carbonates)
- Energy storage (Electrochemical: including fuel cells, batteries and supercapacitors, and thermochemical: including the chemical storage of energy as hydrogen through solar driven thermochemical water splitting)
Energy storage, particularly electrochemical energy storage, is Dr Allens’ particular specialty area. She has worked and published extensively in electrolyser and fuel cell technologies as well as collaboratively on the development and fabrication of supercapacitor and battery materials.
Dr Allen’s post-doctoral work focused on the direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC), which is a high temperature fuel cell with the potential to halve carbon emissions and eliminate particulates related to traditional coal combustion, making the technology able to be located close to urban areas. Her area of study encompasses electrochemical assessment of the carbon electrooxidation reaction, molten salt properties, as well as engineering design of high temperature fuel cells.
She has also been directly involved in renewable energy systems for biomass as a professional engineer through her work with Pacific Pyrolysis and Ignite Energy Resources, as well as collaborative academic work carried out at the University of Newcastle. As a research engineer working for Pacific Pyrolysis, Dr Allen operated an innovative slow pyrolysis, greenwaste-to-biochar pilot plant and carried out extensive mass and energy balance investigations including the development of a model able to predict energy generation expected for a specific feedstock. During her time with Ignite Energy Resources, Dr Allen was involved in operating a first-of-a-kind hydrothermal reactor. This plant successfully demonstrated the large-scale transformation of wood flour to bio-oil using elevated temperature and pressure.Dr Allen also has experience in solar thermal energy since her PhD work referred to the hybrid sulfur cycle, a thermo-electrochemical cycle for the production of hydrogen from water using solar energy inputs. She has several highly cited relevant research papers in this area as the cycle and its applications are of increasing research interest globally. More recently, Dr Allen is also interested in molten alkali-metal carbonate salts, which have properties favourable for application in concentrating solar power (CSP) technology as well as interesting electrochemical properties.
- PhD (Chemistry), University of Newcastle
- Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical Eng ) (Honours), University of Newcastle
- carbon dioxide utilisation
- energy storage
- fuel cells
- low emission coal
- solar thermal
Fields of Research
|090499||Chemical Engineering not elsewhere classified||40|
|091499||Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy not elsewhere classified||20|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Lecturer||University of Newcastle
School of Engineering
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|1/01/2016 - 31/12/2016||
Assistant Course Coordinator and Head Demonstrator for CHEM1010 and CHEM1020
|Faculty of Science and Information Technology, University of Newcastle
|15/07/2013 - 31/12/2015||Post-Doctoral Scientist||The University of Newcastle - Faculty of Science and IT
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|2/05/2011 - 28/06/2013||
Includes a 6 month secondment at Ignite Energy Resources (https://www.igniteer.com/)
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Journal article (15 outputs)
Latham KG, Simone M, Dose WM, Allen JA, Donne SW, 'Synchrotron based NEXAFS study on nitrogen doped hydrothermal
carbon: Insights into surface functionalities and formation
mechanisms', CARBON, 114 566-578 (2017)
Gibson AJ, Johannessen B, Beyad Y, Allen J, Donne SW, 'Dynamic Electrodeposition of Manganese Dioxide: Temporal Variation in the Electrodeposition Mechanism', JOURNAL OF THE ELECTROCHEMICAL SOCIETY, 163 H305-H312 (2016) [C1]
Hughes MA, Allen JA, Donne SW, 'Carbonate Reduction and the Properties and Applications of Carbon Formed Through Electrochemical Deposition in Molten Carbonates: A Review', Electrochimica Acta, (2015) [C1]
The electrochemical conversion of CO<inf>2</inf> to carbon through the reductive electrolysis of molten carbonate-containing salts has been studied by a range of groups. These gro... [more]
The electrochemical conversion of CO
Allen JA, White J, Glenn M, Donne SW, 'Molten Carbonate Composition Effects on Carbon Electro-Oxidation at a Solid Anode Interface', JOURNAL OF THE ELECTROCHEMICAL SOCIETY, 162 F76-F83 (2015) [C1]
Allen JA, Glenn M, Donne SW, 'The effect of coal type and pyrolysis temperature on the electrochemical activity of coal at a solid carbon anode in molten carbonate media', Journal of Power Sources, 279 384-393 (2015) [C1]
Â© 2015 Elsevier B.V.A systematic assessment of the electrochemical activity of two different parent coal types, pyrolysed at temperatures between 500 and 900 Â°C higher heating t... [more]
Â© 2015 Elsevier B.V.A systematic assessment of the electrochemical activity of two different parent coal types, pyrolysed at temperatures between 500 and 900 Â°C higher heating temperature (HHT), is presented in this work. Analysis shows that certain coal chars are catalytically activated in molten carbonate media at 600 Â°C, however activity does not appear to follow trends established for ashless carbon sources. It is seen here that it is not possible to predict activity based solely on electrical resistance, surface functionalization, or the BET surface area of pyrolysed coals. Instead, it is suggested that coal ash type, abundance and distribution plays a pivotal role in activating the coal char to allow fast electrochemical oxidation through a catalytically enhanced pathway. Activation from ash influence is discussed to result from wetting of the molten carbonate media with the carbon surface (change in polarity of electrode surface), through ash mediated oxide adsorption and transfer to carbon particles, or possibly through another catalytic pathway not yet able to be predicted from current results.
Glenn MJ, Allen JA, Donne SW, 'Thermal Investigation of a Doped Alkali-Metal Carbonate Ternary Eutectic for Direct Carbon Fuel Cell Applications', Energy and Fuels, 29 5423-5433 (2015) [C1]
Â© 2015 American Chemical Society.The carbonate eutectic mixture of Li<inf>2</inf>CO<inf>3</inf>, K<inf>2</inf>CO<inf>3</inf>, and Na<inf>2</inf>CO<inf>3</inf> is commonly used as... [more]
Â© 2015 American Chemical Society.The carbonate eutectic mixture of Li
Joseph S, Husson O, Graber ER, Van Zwieten L, Taherymoosavi S, Thomas T, et al., 'The electrochemical properties of biochars and how they affect soil redox properties and processes', Agronomy, 5 322-340 (2015) [C1]
Â© 2015 by the authors.Biochars are complex heterogeneous materials that consist of mineral phases, amorphous C, graphitic C, and labile organic molecules, many of which can be ei... [more]
Â© 2015 by the authors.Biochars are complex heterogeneous materials that consist of mineral phases, amorphous C, graphitic C, and labile organic molecules, many of which can be either electron donors or acceptors when placed in soil. Biochar is a reductant, but its electricaland electrochemical properties are a function of both the temperature of production and the concentration and composition of the various redox active mineral and organic phases present. When biochars are added to soils, they interact with plant roots and root hairs, micro-organisms, soil organic matter, proteins and the nutrient-rich water to form complex organo-mineral-biochar complexes Redox reactions can play an important role in the development of these complexes, and can also result in significant changes in the original C matrix. This paper reviews the redox processes that take place in soil and how they may be affected by the addition of biochar. It reviews the available literature on the redox properties of different biochars. It also reviews how biochar redox properties have been measured and presents new methods and data for determining redox properties of fresh biochars and for biochar/soil systems.
Allen JA, Tulloch J, Wibberley L, Donne SW, 'Kinetic analysis of the anodic carbon oxidation mechanism in a molten carbonate medium', Electrochimica Acta, 129 389-395 (2014) [C1]
The oxidation mechanism for carbon in a carbonate melt was modelled using an electrochemical kinetic approach. Through the Butler-Volmer equation for electrode kinetics, a series ... [more]
The oxidation mechanism for carbon in a carbonate melt was modelled using an electrochemical kinetic approach. Through the Butler-Volmer equation for electrode kinetics, a series of expressions was derived assuming each step of the proposed carbon oxidation mechanism is in turn the rate determining step (RDS). Through the derived expressions the transfer coefficient and Tafel slope were calculated for each possible RDS of the proposed mechanism and these were compared with real data collected on carbon based electrodes including graphite and coal. It was established that the RDS of the electrochemical oxidation process is dependent on both the carbon type and the potential region of oxidation. The simplified kinetic analysis suggested that the RDS in the main oxidation region is likely to be the first or second electron transfer on a graphite electrode surface, which occurs following initial adsorption of an oxygen anion to an active carbon site. This is contrary to previous suggestions that adsorption of the second anion to the carbon surface will be rate determining. It was further shown that use of a coal based carbon introduces a change in mechanism with an additional reaction region where a different mechanism is proposed to be operating. Â©2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Allen JA, Rowe G, Hinkley JT, Donne SW, 'Electrochemical aspects of the Hybrid Sulfur Cycle for large scale hydrogen production', International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, (2014) [C1]
The Hybrid Sulfur Cycle is a thermo-electrochemical process designed for the large scale production of hydrogen. The two-step process is essentially based on water splitting using... [more]
The Hybrid Sulfur Cycle is a thermo-electrochemical process designed for the large scale production of hydrogen. The two-step process is essentially based on water splitting using various sulfur species as intermediates. The limiting step in the overall process is the electrochemical oxidation of sulfur dioxide to form sulphuric acid, which suffers from a substantial (~0.4V) anodic overpotential. Here we report on various aspects of sulfur dioxide oxidation in an acidic media including the effects of electrode preconditioning, the electrode substrate and electrolyte effects, the combination of which has allowed development of a sulfur dioxide oxidation mechanism which is described and discussed. Additionally, the electrochemical oxidation of sulfur dioxide has been shown to be an oscillating reaction, which is also a novel finding. Â© 2014 Hydrogen Energy Publications, LLC.
Tulloch J, Allen J, Wibberley L, Donne S, 'Influence of selected coal contaminants on graphitic carbon electro-oxidation for application to the direct carbon fuel cell', JOURNAL OF POWER SOURCES, 260 140-149 (2014) [C1]
Allen JA, Hinkley JT, Donne SW, 'Electrochemical oxidation of aqueous sulfur dioxide II: Comparative studies on platinum and gold electrodes', Journal of the Electrochemical Society, 159 F585-F593 (2012) [C1]
Allen JA, Hinkley JT, Donne SW, 'Observed electrochemical oscillations during the oxidation of aqueous sulfur dioxide on a sulfur modified platinum electrode', Electrochimica Acta, 56 4224-4230 (2011) [C1]
Allen JA, Hinkley JT, Donne SW, 'The electrochemical oxidation of aqueous sulfur dioxide: I. Experimental parameter influences on electrode behavior', Journal of the Electrochemical Society, 157 F111-F115 (2010) [C1]
Allen JA, Hinkley JT, Donne SW, Lindquist S-E, 'The electrochemical oxidation of aqueous sulfur dioxide: A critical review of work with respect to the hybrid sulfur cycle', Electrochimica Acta, 55 573-591 (2010) [C1]
|Show 12 more journal articles|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||1|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20171 grants / $1,643,002
Funding body: NSW Trade & Investment
|Funding body||NSW Trade & Investment|
Prof. Scott Donne, Dr. Jessica Allen
|Scheme||Coal Innovation NSW Fund|
|Type Of Funding||Other Public Sector - Commonwealth|
Number of supervisions
Total current UON EFTSL
|Commenced||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2016||PhD||The Electrolytic Reduction of Carbonates for the Consumption of Waste CO2 and the Formation of New Energy Storage Materials||PhD (Chemistry), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2012||PhD||Development and Optimization of the Direct Carbon Fuel Cell||PhD (Chemistry), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|