Driving clean-energy research in the right direction

Fuel cell proton exchange membranes get a close look from a laboratory/industry team

June 17, 2021

Clean Energy Research
A new collaborative paper out in the journal Joule presents a Los Alamos research team’s assessment of future research targets for advances in fuel cell technology.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., June 17, 2021—Fuel cells, part of a promising path toward zero-emission vehicles, are making progress at overcoming some specific challenges on the road to powering heavy-duty vehicles. One near-term need is to ensure the electrochemical and mechanical stability of a key component, the proton exchange membrane at the heart of the fuel cell structure. A new collaborative paper out in the journal Joule presents a research team’s assessment of future research targets.

“Because of industrial interest in heavy-duty fuel cell developments, we saw a need to provide research directions on fuel cell membrane R&D for heavy-duty truck applications,” said Yu Seung Kim, a Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher in the field. “We contacted major industry players including General Motors, Toyota, Advent Technologies and SAFCells to collect their perspectives. They liked the idea and we put together our perspectives in this article. Specifically, we discuss the near-, mid- and long-term challenges of proton exchange membranes for heavy-duty fuel cell applications.”

Fuel cells use the chemical energy of liquid or gaseous fuels to generate electricity. As these cells expand their territory to include heavy-duty vehicles, new demands for proton conductors, a critical component of fuel cells, have emerged. An immediate need is improving the stability of proton exchange membranes to enable long-life vehicle drive cycles, part of the path toward a clean energy economy.

In the mid-term, achieving higher conductivity and selectivity for proton vs. gas transport of proton conductors under hot and dry conditions is a valuable project. In the longer term, Kim said, targeting high thermal stability and tolerance to water and impurities will increase pay-load space for heavy-duty vehicles that may run on high energy-density liquid fuels.

Los Alamos currently leads the multi-lab Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck (M2FCT) consortium and the L’innovator program to support the heavy-duty fuel cell R&D activity for DOE Hydrogen and Fuel cell Technologies Office (HFTO). Also DOE ARPA-E supports Los Alamos through the High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HT-PEM) fuel cell project.

Paper: “Proton Conductors for Heavy-Duty Vehicle Fuel Cells,” Joule, June 17, 2021, DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2021.05.016

Funding: This work was supported by the US Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) (M2FCT consortia and Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.