Hydrogen is a valuable energy carrier that is widely used at present in the chemical industry. As a fuel, it has the potential to play a key role in enabling emission-free transportation. Hydrogen can be used to power a vehicle with a fuel cell, which emits only water and can fully recharge for a 300-mile range in minutes, similar to gasoline vehicles. However, mass adoption of fuel cell vehicles has been hampered by high prices largely attributed to the cost of the proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell system that is commonly used. While significant technical progress has been made in the development of acidic PEM fuel cells, a key barrier is the need to use platinum catalysts for the reactions, which are both costly and limited in abundance. In addition, at current low volumes, the acidic membranes are costly. An alternative path is to develop alkaline membranes that have the potential to both eliminate the need for expensive catalysts, and be produced at lower cost at low volumes. The alkaline pathway is also promising for the development of electrolyzers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be used in current industrial processes such as ammonia production or in other applications, such as fuel cell vehicles or as storage for intermittent electricity generation. Eliminating expensive catalysts and lowering membrane costs will help reduce capital costs for electrolyzers, hastening their widespread use.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Tetramer Technologies will develop an anion exchange membrane (AEM) as an alternative to proton exchange membranes (PEM) for use in fuel cells and electrolyzers. The team will test a newly developed AEM for stability in alkaline conditions at a temperature of 80°C, enhanced ion conductivity, controlled membrane swelling, and other required properties. Industry has not yet achieved a cost-effective, commercially viable AEM with long-term chemical and physical stability. If such AEMs could be developed, then AEM-fuel cells could use inexpensive, non-precious metal catalysts, as opposed to expensive metal catalysts like platinum. Platinum in PEM fuel cells accounts for close to 50% of the total fuel cell stack cost at high volume, while the acid-resistant bipolar plates account for an additional 22% of the total stack cost. In alkaline conditions, switching precious metals for cheaper metal catalysts could reduce stack costs by an estimated 50%, which would result in a 25% lower overall vehicle fuel cell system cost. If successful, the team’s polymers could produce a pathway toward dramatically cheaper fuel cells that exhibit comparable or better performance to today’s fuel cells.