Alkaline Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells

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


The first viable large scale fuel cell systems were the liquid electrolyte alkaline fuel cells developed by Francis Bacon. Until recently the entire space shuttle fleet was powered by such fuel cells. The main difficulties with these fuel cells surrounded the liquid electrolyte, which was difficult to immobilise and suffers from problems due to the formation of low solubility carbonate species. Subsequent material developments led to the introduction of proton-exchange membranes (PEMs e.g. Nafion(r)) and the development of the well-known PEMFC. Cost is a major inhibitor to commercial uptake of PEMFCs and is localised on 3 critical components: (1) Pt catalysts (loadings still high despite considerable R&D); (2) the PEMs; and (3) bipolar plate materials (there are few inexpensive materials which survive contact with Nafion, a superacid). Water balance within PEMFCs is difficult to optimise due to electro-osmotic drag. Finally, PEM-based direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) exhibit reduced performances due to migration of methanol to the cathode (voltage losses and wasted fuel).Recent advances in materials science and chemistry has allowed the production of membrane materials and ionomers which would allow the development of the alkaline-equivalent to PEMs. The application of these alkaline anion-exchange membranes (AAEMs) promises a quantum leap in fuel cell viability. The applicant team contains the world-leaders in the development of this innovative technology. Such fuel cells (conduction of OH- anions rather than protons) offer a number of significant advantages:(1) Catalysis of fuel cell reactions is faster under alkaline conditions than acidic conditions - indeed non-platinum catalysts perform very favourably in this environment e.g. Ag for oxygen reduction.(2) Many more materials show corrosion resistance in alkaline than in acid environments. This increases the number and chemistry of materials which can be used (including cheap, easy stamped and thin metal bipolar plate materials).(3) Non-fluorinated ionomers are feasible and promise significant membrane cost reductions.(4) Water and ionic transport within the OH-anion conducting electrolytes is favourable electroosmotic drag transports water away from the cathode (preventing flooding on the cathode, a major issue with PEMFCs and DMFCs). This process also mitigates the 'crossover' problem in DMFCs.This research programme involves the development of a suite of materials and technology necessary to implement the alkaline polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (APEMFC). This research will be performed by a consortium of world leading materials scientists, chemists and engineers, based at Imperial College London, Cranfield University, University of Newcastle and the University of Surrey. This team, which represents one of the best that can be assembled to undertake such research, embodies a multiscale understanding on experimental and theoretical levels of all aspects of fuel cell systems, from fundamental electrocatalysis to the stack level, including diagnostic approaches to assess those systems. The research groups have already explored some aspects of APEMFCs and this project will undertake the development of each aspect of the new technology in an integrated, multi-pronged approach whilst communicating their ongoing results to the members of a club of relevant industrial partners. The extensive opportunities for discipline hopping and international-level collaborations will be fully embraced. The overall aim is to develop membrane materials, catalysts and ionomers for APEMFCs and to construct and operate such fuel cells utilising platinum-free electrocatalysts. The proposed programme of work is adventurous: however, risks have been carefully assessed alongside suitable mitigation strategies (the high risk components promise high returns but have few dependencies). Success will lead to the U.K. pioneering a new class of clean energy conversion technology.


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Stockford C (2015) H2FC SUPERGEN: An overview of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell research across the UK in International Journal of Hydrogen Energy

Description We have developed a new range of materials including membranes, catalysts and flow fields which allow a new type of fuel cell to be created. These materials are less expensive than current materials and will allow the development of fuel cells which are less expensive than current ones.
Exploitation Route Our findings are being taken forward in a number of new projects on the development of new fuel cells.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy

Description Findings for this proposal have been used to further scientific knowledge and have been presented in a large number of papers and at a number of conferences. The possibility of incorporating this technology in operating systems has been considered through follow-on projects which have striven to embody the technology in operating systems.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description Alkaline fuel cell - Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £48,272 (GBP)
Funding ID PS9537_CHIS 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 11/2014
Description Symbiotic
Amount € 3,000,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 01/2016 
End 11/2018
Description Alkaline fuel cell meeting 
Organisation University of Surrey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Conference was organised following the end of the project to invite world class researchers to University of Surrey
Collaborator Contribution Collaborators to this project provided talks on their recent work, This lead to publication of a review article.
Impact Publication of review article in Energy and Environmental Science
Start Year 2013
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
Description Method of producing fuel cells in a low cost manner 
IP Reference WO2012117035 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2014
Licensed Yes
Impact Patent being used by company to manufacture systems
Title Fuel cell comprising at least two stacked printed circuit boards with a plurality of interconnected fuel cell units 
Description A fuel cell comprising at least two stacked fuel cell boards (22) which each comprise a membrane of substantially gas impervious electrolyte material and at least two electrode pairs wherein the anode and cathode of each said electrode pair are arranged on respective faces of said membrane. An electrode of each pair of electrodes is connected to an electrode of an adjacent pair of electrodes by a through-membrane connection (13) or by an external connection on a printed circuit board, comprising an electrically conductive region of said electrolyte material. A method for forming the through-membrane electrical connections in the electrolyte membrane is also disclosed. 
IP Reference CN103620842 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2014
Licensed Yes
Impact patent used to produce fuel cells by company
Description BEIS EINA Workshop: Hydrogen & Fuel Cell 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact On behalf of BEIS, Vivid Economics/Carbon Trust/E4Tech invite you to a workshop to inform innovation spending priorities for the Hydrogen & Fuel Cell sector on 13th February 2019

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is looking at the future of innovation spending across all areas of energy. A structured Energy Innovation Needs Assessment (EINA) process has been developed to gather evidence and analyse the role of selected technologies in the UK's future energy system. This will inform where innovation support and investment could deliver the greatest benefits, informing spending priorities. Vivid Economics, Carbon Trust, and E4Tech have been contracted by BEIS to carry out this work.

Following whole energy system modelling by the Energy Systems Catapult using the energy system modelling environment (ESME) model, we have identified key technologies considered most important for energy system value. Your experience in the Hydrogen & Fuel Cell sector will help us to validate a suggested set of innovations, prioritise these in terms of importance for the UK energy system and identify how to unlock the opportunities presented by each technology. We will take account of other key documents that have been published in this area.

Here is the agenda for a workshop, which will be held in two parts:
10.00-12.30 Technologies. Discuss a suggested table of key innovations and a table focused on cost outlooks, which will be provided for your review before the workshop (these are provided a few days prior to the workshop).
[Lunch 12.30-1.00]
1.00-3.30 Business and policy opportunities. Your experience in the sector will help us to identify domestic and international business opportunities and identify barriers to unlocking them.

We are inviting 15-20 Hydrogen & Fuel Cell experts from academia, industry, and governmental organisations. The workshop will be held at Broadway House, Council Chamber, Tothill St, Westminster, London SW1H 9NQ, on 13th February 2019. With your expertise, we expect that you would be most suited to attending both sessions, but please let us know if you feel otherwise.

We hope that the importance of BEIS's goal will enable you to prioritise attendance. I would be grateful if you could please confirm attendance by 18th January 2019 and in line with GDPR requirements, please confirm that you consent to us to sharing your name and email address with BEIS and our consortium partners (Vivid Economic, Carbon Trust) solely for the purposes of this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Renewable Fuel Generation and Energy Storage 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Renewable Fuel Generation and Energy Storage Symposium
2nd November 2018
Molecular Sciences Research Hub, White City Campus, Imperial College London
09:00 - 09:30 Arrival and light breakfast
09:30 - 09:40 Introductory remarks: Dr. Andreas Kafizas
MATERIALS Chair: Dr. Franky Bedoya
09:40 - 10:10 Life beyond titania: new materials for solar fuel generation
Prof. Aron Walsh, Department of Materials
10:10 - 10:40 MOF-based composites as bifunctional materials for CO2 capture and photoconversion
Dr. Camille Petit, Department of Chemical Engineering
10:40 - 11:00 Coffee & Poster session
11:00 - 11:30 Photoelectrocatalytic properties of atomically thin transition metal dichalcogenides
Dr. Cecilia Mattevi, Department of Materials
11:30 - 12:00 Lead-acid batteries recycling for the 21st Century
Dr. David Payne, Department of Materials
12:00 - 13:00 Lunch & Poster session
13:00 - 13:30 Measuring the intrinsic catalytic performance of catalysts for fuel cells and electrolysers
Prof. Anthony Kucernak, Department of Chemistry
13:30 - 14:00 Towards a parameter-free theory for electrochemical phenomena at the nanoscale
Dr. Clotilde Cucinotta, Department of Chemistry
14:00 - 14:30 Transient spectroscopic studies of approaches to artificial photosynthesis
Prof. James Durrant, Department of Chemistry
14:30 - 15:00 In-situ ultrafast methods for solar fuels: Can we push efficiencies?
Dr. Ernest Pastor, Department of Chemistry
15:00 - 15:20 Coffee & Poster session
15:20 - 15:50 Upscaling battery technology: From material science to pack engineering
Dr. Billy Wu, Dyson School of Design Engineering
15:50 - 16:20 Electrochemical synthesis of fuels and valuable chemicals: from fundamental catalysis studies to real devices
Dr. Ifan Stephens, Department of Materials
16:20 - 16:50 (Photo-)electrochemical reactors for energy conversion and storage
Prof. Geoff Kelsall, Department of Chemical Engineering
16:50 - 17:20 Renewable gas from offshore wind and offshore electrolysers
Dr. Malte Jansen, Centre for Environmental Policy
PANEL DISUSSION Chair: Prof. Geoff Kelsall
17:20 - 18:00 Question for the panellists: Learning from the presentations today, what disruptive technologies and collaborative projects would you like to see at ICL?
Panellists: Prof. James Durrant (Chemistry), Prof. Richard Templer (Chemistry & Grantham Institute), Dr. Judith Cherni (Centre for Environmental Policy) and Dr. Sam Coper (Dyson School of Design Engineering).
18:00 - 18:10 Closing remarks and prize-giving: Dr. Andreas Kafizas
18:10 - Late Wine and mingling
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description The Hydrogen Economy in The Future Energy Landscape 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The hydrogen economy is steadily gaining increasing importance as a realistic and affordable option in the context of the de-carbonisation challenge that the UK and other countries have set themselves to for the next few decades.

To explore this subject, we are delighted to invite you to a workshop taking place in November to explore what a possible hydrogen economy landscape may look like in the UK in 2035, what the implications may be for the various actors within the energy system, and what decisions may be required to translate that vision into a realistic plan.

Building on the scenario described in the Arup publication " Energy systems: A view from 2035", this workshop is part of Arup's thought leadership initiatives to explore the future of energy in the upcoming decades. It will be a unique opportunity to come together with colleagues and peers across government, to consider the commercial models, regulatory framework and policy decision required to develop and implement a potential future hydrogen economy.

This workshop is the second of a series where we will be exploring the challenges and opportunities of the hydrogen economy with experts across the industry:

Workshop - Hydrogen economy: industry stakeholders

(28th November 2018 - Breakfast served from 8.45 for a 9.00 start. Close at 3.30)

Breakfast event: Hydrogen economy: route map review with government and industry representatives

(12th December 2018)

Each event will be facilitated by our subject matter experts, who can leverage Arup's understanding of the hydrogen economy, of the regulatory framework and commercial models, as well as of the broader hydrogen stakeholders' community.

They will be highly interactive sessions, which will challenge common assumptions and will encourage attendees to consider the hydrogen economy on its multiple aspects and from different perspectives - each stakeholder for example will be asked to 'role-play' different actors in the system.

In each session we will be producing a route map to a possible hydrogen economy system in the UK, which will then be reviewed and tested during the breakfast event in December 2018, with representatives from government and the industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019