Newark, Delaware
Project Term:
01/01/2017 - 06/30/2019

Critical Need:

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 also produced at lower cost and 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:

The University of Delaware (UD) with their project partners will develop a new class of hydroxide exchange membranes (HEMs) for use in electrochemical devices such as fuel cells. Hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells (HEMFC), in contrast to PEM fuel cells, can use catalysts based on low-cost metals as well as inexpensive membranes and bipolar plates. However, a low-cost HEM that simultaneously possesses adequate ion conductivity, chemical stability, and mechanical robustness does not yet exist. To address this challenge, the team has developed a family of poly(aryl piperidinium) HEMs that are highly hydroxide conductive, chemically stable, and mechanically robust. These polymers will be designed to provide unprecedented chemical stability, while simultaneously enabling high ion-exchange capacities and low swelling ratios, and mechanical robustness. A major part of the team’s project will focus on enhancing the mechanical robustness of HEMs under different levels of humidity. The feasibility of roll-to-roll membrane production will be determined as part of the commercialization efforts. The proposed HEMs have the potential to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles economically competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles. 

Potential Impact:

If successful, developments made under the IONICS program will create a fundamentally lower cost trajectory for electrochemical systems, such as fuel cells and electrolyzers, which are currently based on proton exchange membranes.


IONICS program innovations could contribute to energy storage and conversion solutions for transportation and the grid, lessening U.S. dependence on imported oil and improving grid resilience.


Greater integration of renewable resources into the power mix will reduce the need for other more carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation.


IONICS program innovations could permit the use of the oxygen and hydrogen electrodes with low-cost catalysts and other components, which could save over 50% of current fuel cell stack costs (at high volume) and reduce vehicle fuel cell system and combined heat and power system costs by about 25%.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik
Project Contact:
Prof. Yushan Yan
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Wichita State University

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