School of Engineering

Staff Profile

Dr Eileen Yu

Senior Lecturer

Background

Introduction

Dr Eileen Hao Yu is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials at Newcastle University. Her PhD study worked on the development of direct methanol alkaline fuel cells, which was considered a pioneering study in the area. After her PhD, she worked as a research fellow at Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Germany, before returned to Newcastle to take a prestigious EPSRC Research Fellowship (Life Science Interface) in 2006.

Dr Yu’s current research focuses on novel bioelectronics including biosensors; enzymatic biofuel cells and microbial fuel cells. She is a part of EPSRC Supergen Biological fuel cell consortium. She also involves in the research on alkaline polymer membrane fuel cells.

Qualifications

PhD (Chemical Engineering, Newcastle, 2003)

Research Interests

§ Fuel cells and Biological fuel cells,

§ Biosensors for healthcare devices, biocompatible materials

§ Protein modification, functionalisation and immobilisation

§ Electrochemical and bioelectrochemical catalysis

§ Fuel cell configuration and design

§ Wastewater treatment and remediation

§ Carbon capture and utilisation

 § CO2 electrochemical reduction and conversion

Selected grants awarded
2016-2020 EPSRC Low carbon fuel: Liquid Fuel and bioEnergy Supply from CO2 Reduction (Lifes-CO2R) (EP/N009746/1), £2m, PI.

2015-2016 UK-India UKIERI: Development of high performance carbon nanomaterials for enhancing the cathodic oxygen reduction and performance of anode in microbial fuel cells, PI

2014-2018 NERC Resource Recovery from Waste: Bioelectrochemical systems for resource recovery (metal and mineral recovery) from wastewater (NERC NE/K015788/1, NE/L01422X/1,), £1.2m, Co-PI

2010-2014     EPSRC Supergen Biological Fuel Cells (EPSRC EP/H019480/1), total £4m, CoI

2006-2009 EPSRC Research Fellowship (Life Science Interface), Grant EP/C535456/1, Development of Biofuel Cells for Implantable Devices, PI

Work Experience

2016 Senior Lecture                                                            

School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials,

Newcastle University, UK

Research group:Bioelectrochemical engineering

2009-2016 Lecturer                                                                      

School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials,

Newcastle University, UK

Research group:Bioelectrochemical engineering

2006-2009 EPSRC Research Fellow at the Life Science Interface     

School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials,

University of Newcastle upon Tyne

2005 Research Fellow                                                         

Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Magdeburg, Germany.

Memberships

ISE, SCI and ISMET

Honours and Awards

1st Prize in the Connections and Creativity competition, Challenge Engineering 2006, EPSRC

Research

Enzymatic Biofuel Cells for Implantable Medical Devices

This project is sponsored by EPSRC. The aim of this project is to research and develop a biofuel cell system which provides power for implantable electrically operated devices, and obtain further understanding on enzymatic electrochemical reactions for glucose oxidation and oxygen reduction.

Biofuel cells offer specific advantages over other renewable energy conversion methods. These advantages are particularly attractive in the medical field where the developments in medical science leads to an increasing number of implantable devices, which need miniaturised, implantable and low-power sources to support their operation. Apart from this, biofuel cells have potential applications also on miniaturised electronic devices and environmental applications (such as wastewater treatment). To achieve an efficient power system, research will be carried out on bioelectrocatalysis, transport processes and system integration.


 Microbial Fuel Cells

Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC’s) represent an emerging technology that could eventually become an important renewable energy source. Power in a microbial fuel cell is generated when bacteria donate electrons to an insoluble anode, these electrons travel through an external circuit, and then go onto reduce oxygen at a cathode, producing water. The circuit is completed by the migration of protons from the anode to the cathode through a proton exchange membrane. MFC’s are being developed for the treatment of domestic wastewater, as BOD biosensors, as power sources for remote devices, and for bioremediation applications.

An important limitation with respect to MFC development is in the use of precious metal catalysts, such as Pt, for oxygen reduction at the cathode. Biocathodes are a suitable alternative to these abiotic catalysts as they are both cheap and sustainable. Through microbial metabolism, they work by oxidising spent mediators or directly accepting electrons from plain electrodes. My own research is currently focused on the use of Manganese Oxidising Bacteria and Iron Oxidising Bacteria for MFC biocathodes.

Poor kinetics of oxygen reduction at neutral pH and low temperatures hinder the improvement of MFC performance. Research has been carried out intensively on MFC anodes, but MFC cathode catalysts have not been as thoroughly studied. Pt is the most commonly used catalyst on the cathode, but its high cost prohibits its use for commercial MFC applications. Further development and commercialization of MFC make it essential that we have a better understanding of the performance of non-Pt cathode catalysts. Alternatives to Pt for oxygen reduction under conditions of neutral pH media have not been well explored. We therefore conducted electrochemical half cell studies, and the performance of MFCs with various non-Pt catalysts for oxygen reduction. It is shown that MFC power output was improved with non-Pt cathodes compared to that achieved with a commercially available Pt catalyst.

 

Electrochemical biosensor for Non-estified fatty acid (NEFA)


With an increase in people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (T2D), there is a high demand in biosensors that can monitor not only the blood glucose levels but also the other biomarkers associated with T2D. The metabolism biomarkers are essential in understanding the cause of diabetes at the early stage. Diets rich in saturated fats cause obesity and insulin resistance, and increase levels of circulating NEFAs. Assessment of NEFA may be a useful addition to routine diabetes management. NEFA, like glucose can reflect acute change of an individual’s energy status. Glucose and NEFA are biomarkers of immediate energy metabolism.

The specific research interest of this project is to develop an electrochemical biosensor that will detect changes in blood NEFA concentrations for patients with T2D, for the future development of personalised intervention programmes for the treatment and management of the disease.  

 Nanomaterials for Bioelectronic Sensors

The use of bioelectronics, especially biosensors, has played a major role in transmitting physical events into direct signals that represents what happens when a material is under investigation. For biosensor results to be accurate, reliable and also for its commercial viability, their sensitivity and transducing property needs to be improved. This also determines their applications in biomedical, environmental, pharmaceutical and quality control purposes. This research aims to develop gold based nanoparticles for improving the sensitivity and stability of biosensors and for biomedical applications such as drug delivery, tissue repair, hyperthermia and magnetic resonance imaging.

Resource Recovery from Waste using Bioelectrochemical Systems 
Production and recovery of energy and industrial materials from novel biological sources reduces our dependency on the Earth's finite mineral petrochemical resources and helps the UK economy to become a low carbon economy. Recovering energy and valuable resources such as metals from waste materials is an attractive but challenging prospect. The valuable materials are usually present in wastes at very low levels and present as a highly complex mixture. This makes it very difficult to concentrate and purify them in an economically sustainable manner.
In recent years there have been exciting advances in our understanding of ways in which microorganisms can extract the energy locked up in the organic compounds found in wastewater and in the process generate electricity by MFCs. In theory MFC can be configured such that, rather than conversion of oxygen to water at the cathode they could convert metal ions to metals or drive the synthesis of valuable chemicals. It is our aim to develop such systems that use energy harvested from wastewater to recover metals from metal-containing waste streams and for the synthesis of valuable chemicals, ultimately from CO2.
This project will bring together experts from academia and industry to devise ways in which this can be achieved and will form the foundation of a research programme where scientists working on fundamental research and those with the skills to translate laboratory science to industrial processes will work together to develop sustainable processes for the production of valuable resources from waste.

Convert Carbon Dioxide into Valuable Chemicals
The conventional Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in some way provides effective means for emission reductions but high investment costs, possibilities for leakage and increased public resistance and energy costs demanding for alternative methods.
The electrocatalytic reduction of CO2 to liquid fuels, chemical feedstock and valuable chemicals has attracted growing interest in CO2 capture and utilisation (CCU) in the past several years. The electrochemical processes offer good reaction selectivity and reduced cost because of possibility of direct control of electrode surface free energy through electrode potential. However, due to extreme stableness of CO2 molecule, the overpotential for CO2 electrochemical reduction is high. The energy required for the process could be intensive, current efficiency could be low and the yield of the desired product could be low. 
From our research on Microbial fuel cells (MFCs), it is clear that MFC can largely reduce the energy demand in the wastewater treatment process and clean the organic carbon simultaneously. 
The ultimate goal is to develop low cost and low energy consumption bioelectrochemical system (BES) to convert CO2 into high valued products, such as liquid fuels, chemicals, amino acids or alkenes. For this project, the aim is to conduct preliminary study on converting CO2 into small organic molecules, such as methanol and formic acid by electrochemical synthesis.

Eileen Yu's profile can be viewed at Google Scholar

Teaching

Undergraduate Teaching

Modules

        CME2030 Chemical Engineering Lab 1

        CME2031 HEN

Postgraduate Teaching

         CME8044 Fuel Cell Systems

         CME8118 Stability and Sustainability of Materials

         SPG8007 Renewable Energy: Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology

Publications