Advanced Alkaline Membrane H2/Air Fuel Cell System with Novel Technique for Air CO2

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OPEN 2018
Newark, Delaware
Project Term:
12/19/2018 - 12/18/2022

Critical Need:

Transportation accounts for 29% of U.S. energy consumption and 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Fuel is responsible for only 1/6th of the ownership cost for a medium-sized, gasoline-powered sedan, meaning that alternative fuel vehicles must offer low upfront cost to be competitive. Hydrogen-fueled vehicles offer the promise of an affordable, low-carbon transportation sector. The primary technology for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), but costs have not achieved the $30/kW target necessary to compete with gasoline-powered vehicles. Hydrogen-fueled hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells (HEMFCs) are less corrosive, and their alkaline design offers cost advantages over PEMFCs. However, no HEMFC-based power source for transport applications has been demonstrated because carbon dioxide in air, a cost-effective oxygen source, quickly degrades its performance.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The University of Delaware will build an electrochemical “pump,” based on a special membrane, to remove cell-damaging CO2 from ambient air before feeding it along with hydrogen into an HEMFC designed by the team. This method eliminates the need for vehicles using HEMFCs to carry an onboard oxygen supply or scrub carbon dioxide by other more expensive routes. The same principle could be applied to direct carbon capture from air for any system with a similar challenge. If successful, this electrochemical pump-HEMFC unit will meet performance, volume, and cost requirements for passenger vehicles.

Potential Impact:

The University of Delaware’s HEMFC system’s ability to operate on ambient air enables it to overcome the last major barrier for hydrogen-fueled transport applications based on HEM.


The mass adoption of hydrogen-powered vehicles would diversify the country’s transportation sector, strengthening its ability to withstand shocks and disruptions.


Greater use of hydrogen-powered vehicles would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, 28% of which come from the transportation sector.


Improving the cost and performance of hydrogen fuel cells would enable more widespread use of these technologies, resulting in substantially increased fuel efficiency and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Halle Cheeseman
Project Contact:
Yushan Yan
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