"Mind the Gap" - jumping the hurdles limiting polymer fuel cell performance and commercialisation

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry


In this proposal we are bringing together a number of individuals and institutions with a varied and complimentary skill set appropriate for the proposed work. All members of the team have an extensive and world-class background in fuel cell research and development, and the institutions which they work are well provisioned to undertake this work. Furthermore we are supported by a number of Institutions and companies.

The project is based around four research work packages and one coordinating work package.

* Operation of fuel cells on "dirty" fuels
Fuel cells typically require high quality hydrogen to prevent the poisoning of catalysts and membranes. This not only increases the cost of fuels, but limits the possible sources that can be used unless extensive clean-up methods are used. We intend to study the poisoning mechanism and poison content of fuels/air; develop catalysts with improved poison resistance. The goal is improvement in operation of fuel cells on typically available fuels in the near term, and use of "dirtier fuels" (biogenic sources) in the longer term.

* Reduction of the cost of fuel cells
Catalyst costs are one of the major components of fuel cell system cost (~25-30% of total). We intend to look at reduced platinum loading systems and how these systems interact with poor quality fuel/air. In the short term the desire is to reduce the cost and catalyst requirements. Over the longer term there is the desire to transition to new catalysts. Hence, we will also look at the development of new non-precious metal (or reduced precious metal) catalysts and the integration of these catalysts with new catalyst supports.

* Improvement in fuel cell longevity
Fuel cell longevity is a function of catalyst degradation and extreme conditions occurring during start-up/shut down and other extraneous events. Within this work package we will examine diagnostics to interrogate and understand the degradation processes and the development of improved catalyst supports and catalysts to resist degradation.

* Improving fuel cell systems efficiency
Improving fuel cell efficiency is associated with diagnosing the bottlenecks and those areas where the majority of losses are occurring. We will facilitate this process by developing and applying a range of in-cell and in-stack approaches to understand where those efficiency losses are occurring. At the same time we will examine the development of fuel cell balance of plant components to improve system efficiency. These approaches will be coupled with system modeling to assess the best areas to achieve performance gains.

Planned Impact

A successful result for this project could result in Intellectual Property generation which may be licensed to a company (e.g. Intelligent Energy) or may allow formation of a spin-out company (and thus including the potential for creation of new jobs).

On a broader scale, development of fuel cell technology will reduce global CO2 emissions, improve air quality, contribute to UK energy security and have an enabling role in the move towards a low carbon economy. This project is aimed at improving the commercialisation opportunities for polymer electrolyte fuel cell systems. We have as prime collaborators two UK fuel cell companies, and the National Physical Laboratory, NPL. The first company is Intelligent Energy, a UK company a leading UK based PEFC company employing over 150 people. They focus on proprietary fuel cell and hydrogen generation technology platforms, and are embarking on a major programme of providing fuel cell backup power systems for mobile phone telecoms station in India and have an office in Mumbai, India. The second UK company is BAC2, a company producing best-in-class bipolar- and end- plates PEFCs, DMFCs, alkali and PAFC stacks utilising "ElectroPhen", a plastic that's a billion times more electrically conductive than other polymers or resins. NPL assists UK industry in developing more efficient and cost-effective fuel cells. They provide in-situ techniques for measurement of temperature and gas composition, modelling of fuel cell systems, assessment of fuel cell durability and the study of catalytic processes on the micro- to nano-scale. All three bodies see this as being an important project for them to be part of and have supplied generous support in terms of manpower, equipment and knowledge and expertise.

A significant part of this project is associated with the cross-border development of research ties between UK and India, and there may be further societal benefits to this work. This research may be viewed as a "pump-priming" process which will allow the development of further research ties between UK and India. Certainly the involvement of scientists from the UK visiting India and Indian academics visiting the UK may allow the development of new research areas and topics which go on to produce further benefits to the UK.

Commercial exploitation of results will be managed by the appropriate technical transfer organisation of all institutions. We will use the UK Fuel Cell Supergen model for this as our basis.

There are a range of societal impacts which may result from the efficient commercialisation of this research, which would accelerate deployment of electric vehicles and stationary fuel cell systems due to improved energy densities and energy efficiencies. This will decrease CO2 emissions, aiding the UK to achieve its CO2 reduction targets, and decrease atmospheric contaminants in urban environments.
The programme will provide progression and the ability to interact with Indian/UK collaborators in this important field for six junior researchers, and an excellent educational programme for all members of the project and those in the Fuel Cell SuperGen.


10 25 50

Description We have made many diverse findings. These include:
a) New ways to regenerate (clean) fuel cells that have been exposed to environmental pollutants;
b) new catalysts which perform as well as current catalysts but which are less expensive;
c) New support materials which are more resilient and longer lived;
d) Information about the way a fuel cell expands and contracts due to water uptake.
Exploitation Route Our results are being used by our industrial project partners in developing new fuel cells and modifying there systems to operate in new environments.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy

Description This proposal is not completed yet. Findings have been presented at a number of conferences and was also used at a stand in the RCUK celebrations in India in November 2013. At this event a stand with representatives from the project were present to discuss and publicise the technology.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Chemicals,Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Collaboration with Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Supergen 
Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Supergen
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution H2FC is the hydrogen and fuel cell supergen. We have presented results at H2FC conferences and as Kucernak is a theme leader the results have been used to set the direction of future research
Collaborator Contribution Allow research to be seen by wider audience.
Impact Presentation of results at H2FC conferences
Start Year 2010