Engineered electrode assemblies for PEM fuel cells

Year 2004
Project team Yang Shao-Horn

Novel electrode fabrication

Fuel cells — electrochemical engines that combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity — show promise as a solution to both global warming and to energy shortages by providing low-cost, emission-free energy generation. In particular, proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have great potential and may one day power cars, heat homes, or serve as mobile generators. However, cost must be reduced significantly if PEMFCs are to compete with existing and advanced power generation technologies. A single PEMFC consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an ionic conductor membrane. These electrodes contain a substantial amount of platinum as a catalyst that assists oxidation of hydrogen and reduction of oxygen — processes that are essential to the practical energy-conversion efficiency of these devices. Catalysts in electrodes are the primary cause of the high cost of PEMFCs. Building on work funded by a previous Deshpande Center grant, this project aims to meet the challenge of reducing cost through a novel electrode fabrication technique that would maximize catalyst utilization. Any company involved in electrochemistry, including manufacturers of primary (non-rechargeable) batteries, secondary (rechargeable) batteries, fuel cells, and chemicals by electrolysis, would have a potential interest in licensing this process. And ultimately, if initial data are correct, this project could alter the economics of PEMFCs and enable the commercialization of this important technology.