Hydrogen Hypothesis: Sustainable Energy Scotland

Luke Watkins is in the final year of his PhD in the School of Chemical Engineering & Advanced Materials at Newcastle University. He was funded by NIReS to attend the 2013 Hypothesis Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Conference in Edinburgh in July 2013. In this first instalment of four posts, Luke tells us about getting to the conference, reflects on Edinburgh’s transport system, and provides some handy hints on how to make the most of the networking opportunities.

“In no time at all I was welcomed into the city of Edinburgh, one of the greenest cities in the UK that has consistently scored well in the UK’s Sustainable Cities Index [1]. Newcastle is of course at the top of the table, however the entire city centre of Scotland’s capital has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site [2].

Despite being a very green and beautiful city, the capital’s inherent issues lie in its transport network, which was further elaborated to me by a refreshingly enthusiastic taxi driver with a broad Scottish accent. It did not take much encouragement (“so where are the trams?”) to spark a barrage of local dialect about issues with closed roads, pollution, and the price of whisky. One thing he did make clear was his appraisal for the bus network. I can confirm that the city was saturated with buses, although this is no doubt contributing towards pollution levels in the city, which according to recent reports appears to be getting worse. Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s director, announced:

“Having to include even more streets in the pollution zones is a sure sign that a decade’s worth of action plans have failed.” [3]

Perhaps part of the solution to this ongoing pollution problem lies within the Herriot-Watt University Campus, where the taxi driver eventually made it after undulating past all the closed down roads. The university is an apt location for the 2013 Hypothesis Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Conference, as their research contributes towards advancing energy materials, with focus on the international agenda of climate change and sustainable fuel.

Conference Initiation

As one of the speakers, my first task was to hand over my presentation that was securely stored on a free USB pen drive I obtained from a recent NIReS seminar, where there was also lots of free food. The free USB pen drive is encased in wood, arguably our most sustainable raw material, and etched with the NIReS and Newcastle University logos.

Exposing the university logo caught the attention of an amiable gentleman representing Atkins (the largest engineering consultancy in the UK) who, being a previous student at Newcastle University, came and introduced himself to me. We discussed various elements of Newcastle and it was nice to hear from him that vodka trebles bars still existed in Newcastle 35 years ago. In no time I had discovered networking was easier than expected and I was invited to an event in Newcastle he would be attending in the future. It was also refreshing to hear from someone outside of uni who was genuinely interested in my work and understood what I was talking about. Even so, during pre-conference preparations I evolved my long and complex thesis title into something a bit more digestible: ‘Hydrogen Energy – low cost production through alkaline electrolyser technology’. This title would headline my research poster, which I’m glad to say received much interest from fellow conference attendees passing by. This is perhaps due to appropriate positioning of the poster next to the tables where the free liquid refreshments were brought out at each break. Knowing my audience has been a key aspect of my presentations whatever the format, and most people like free drink.

This was the 10th anniversary of Hypothesis, which meant only one thing… a large birthday cake was gracefully brought onto the stage during the opening speech. Complete with candles and wishes. Little did I know exactly how much left over cake would be kindly donated to me by the organizers at the end of the conference to take home as a consumable souvenir!

However, this conference was not just so I could get free coffee and cake. The summit brings together senior executives from the utilities industry, developers, manufacturers, researchers, politicians, financiers, and grant funders to provide an environment to discuss and assess where hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are with regards to their deployment. Due to the heavy focus on case studies of projects across the globe, the conference covered topics such as how to overcome the economic, political and technological challenges to improve penetration of green energy and of intermittent resources. Some of these case studies and topics will be discussed in the second instalment.


  • Get involved
  • Flash your university logo about
  • Position yourself near free liquid refreshment distribution


While only securing my funds for the Hypothesis Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Conference a week before the event, a variety of people I’d never met before had done a top end job at sorting me out and arranging me to attend my first conference. So a massive thanks to Elizabeth Johnson and the rest of the Pure Energy Centre® crew for allowing me to arrange my talk and attendance so late, and also for Jennifer Hazelton and NIReS for their invaluable support.

1.  Forum for the Future’s annual Sustainable Cities Index.  2007-2010  [cited 2013 August]

2.  UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage List.  2013  [cited August 2013]

3.  Friends of the Earth Scotland. Edinburgh pollution zones extended as policies fail.  26 April 2013  [cited August 2013]

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