Mines professor leading project to accelerate commercialization of hydrogen fuel cells, electrolyzers
"Cost is the main barrier to the widespread adoption of polymer electrolyte fuel cells,” Assistant Professor Svitlana Pylypenko said.
Smog, pollution, climate change. It’s impossible to turn on the news without hearing about the environmental threats faced by modern society.
Many believe that hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers could be the key to creating sustainable energy in the future. Despite significant investments in these promising technologies, cost and durability are still problematic, due to their reliance on expensive catalysts and the low manufacturing volumes of electrolyzers and fuel cells components.
Svitlana Pylypenko, assistant professor of chemistry at Colorado School of Mines, and Jasna Jankovic, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Connecticut, are teaming with industry partners Pajarito Powder and Forge Nano, the U.S Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany to accelerate the development of high-volume fabrication of components to facilitate the development of sustainable and zero-emission energy generation technologies.
The team will compare the impact of various processes for scale-up of electrolyzer and fuel cell electrodes on electrode morphology and performance, based on innovative and state-of-the-art catalysts. With the Partnership for Innovations grant from the National Science Foundation, Jankovic and Pylypenko, who is the principal investigator on the project, will provide a common platform for advanced and sophisticated characterization for the developed products and establish process-properties-performance correlations.
The goal is to make it possible for other industry partners to develop the tools and replicate this process, which will further increase commercialization of this technology, Pylypenko said.
“Cost is the main barrier to the widespread adoption of polymer electrolyte fuel cells for automotive application and electrolyzers for hydrogen production,” Pylypenko said. “We also need to improve our understanding surrounding the performance of electrodes made with catalysts that have novel morphologies and chemistries, and this project will help us make important strides on both fronts.”
The research team plans to deliver 25-gram batches of novel catalyst produced at scale by Pajarito Powder to ensure viability of electrode fabrication. Forge Nano will enhance durability using their atomic layer deposition approach. NREL and Fraunhofer ISE, funded via state and national government resources, will produce the electrodes using a range of methods and perform in situ testing of the electrodes to elucidate performance.
Correlations between catalyst composition and morphology, structure and ink processing parameters and properties, electrode structure and membrane electrode assembly performance will be identified for a set of commercially available catalysts, as well as novel catalysts produced under this project by industry partners.
“Our hope is this work will provide feedback to current and other potential industry partners that synthesize catalysts today for use in innovative new technologies,” Pylypenko said. “Finding ways to transition fuel cells away from low-scale, costly electrode fabrications and toward large-scale economically viable approaches is key to the technology’s success. Increased durability, as well as the use of fewer platinum group metals, will help reduce both the total capital costs and the technology’s dependence on commodity metals.”
As part of the project, international workshops on advanced manufacturing and characterization of fuel cells and electrolyzers will be held to help to expand interactions with partners and form larger networks. The first workshop, organized by Jankovic and held in September 2019 at UConn, will continue annually, alternating between UConn and Mines/NREL. Protocols and findings from the common characterization platform will be disseminated to the community to further promote and facilitate the deployment of future innovations.