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Volkswagen Research Introduces High-Temperature PEM Fuel Cell

Volkswagen Research has developed a PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell that operates at temperatures about 50% higher than the conventional low-temperature fuel cells prevalent in current hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle prototypes.

Low-temperature PEM fuel cells (LTFC) operate at a membrane temperature of approximately 80° C. If the temperature greatly exceeds this value, fuel-cell performance breaks down and the fuel cell can be irreparably damaged. Accordingly, vehicle prototypes with low temperature fuel cells have sophisticated and expensive cooling systems.

Furthermore, in LT systems the supply of hydrogen gas and air must be continuously humidified; humidification systems also add additional weight and cost.

In contrast, the high temperature fuel cell (HTFC) membrane developed by Volkswagen can, in combination with newly designed electrodes, operate at temperatures of up to 120° Celsius with no loss in performance and without humidification.

The HTFC uses phosphoric acid as the medium for the exchange of protons. The acid has good electrolytic properties similar to water, yet demonstrates a higher boiling point—the reason that a significantly simpler cooling system and water management is sufficient for the HTFC. The space required for the fuel cell system is also reduced by more than 30%.

The high temperature fuel cell independently developed by Volkswagen in seven years of research work will make the overall system in the car lighter, more compact, stable and cheaper. And those are the decisive criteria for putting fuel cells on the path towards mass series production.

We believe that the high temperature fuel cell is part of the future. In contrast, we no longer give much chance to low temperature fuel cells going into series production.

—Prof. Jürgen Leohold, head of Volkswagen corporate research

A persistent obstacle in the development of the HTFC was the formation of product water via the reaction, which permeated the membrane and washed out the phosphoric acid. This, in turn, interrupted the flow of current.

Volkswagen’s breakthrough was to modify the electrodes to prevent the penetration of the product water. Volkswagen researchers used a special screen printing machine like the ones used in semiconductor production to coat several cloth elements made of carbon fiber with a new type of paste. The Volkswagen team found that the modified electrodes prevented the product water from penetrating the membrane.

Volkswagen Research expects to have its HTFC systems in research vehicles by 2010, and production versions ready for the public by about 2020.

Volkswagen has been involved in fuel-cell research for more than a decade. Milestones include the Capri Project (1996-2000, hybrid drive in the Golf Variant with 20 kW fuel cell), the Bora HyMotion (2000, fuel cell hybrid car with 30 kW fuel cell continuous power rating), the PSI Bora in cooperation with the Paul Scherer Institute (2001, driving tests over the 2,005 meter high Simplon Pass with 40 kW fuel cell) and the Touran HyMotion (since 2004, integration of a fuel cell with 65 kW continuous power rating with no restrictions on available space, including field tests in California and China).

The company’s resulting experience with low temperature fuel cells was instrumental in focusing its energy toward the development of high temperature fuel cell systems.



10 years from R & D to deployment? This isn't a missile defense system. If they take 10 years to commercialize, Toyota will eat their lunch. That's not even counting developments in nanotechnology which will certainly change the game WAY before 2020.

We'll find out in the next 5 years if fuel cells have a future at all, (vs. advanced batteries).


R&D can drag on due to:
a) continuous development (or branching of development) past original goal, to other possibilities opened up by original research
b) redirecting objectives, midway, due to opportunities.
c) good things take time, especially taking basic science, or going from specialty cost+fixed profit equipment (C+FP) contract, and engineering a consumer product (that must be economical per unit, and be up to snuff). Fuel cells may not be new (Apollo fuel cells were a C+FP, with bids), but they are not commonplace, everyday items either.
_I do agree technology can change rapidly, especially if Toshiba and a few other firms are not BSin' about their rapid charge battery rollout the consumers in the next year (or 5).
_However, fuel cells are varied, and some can accept carbon as fuel, paving the way to highly efficient electric generation. At first, they may be installed at power plants for electric generation for the grid (or as a dedicated power source), with increasingly mobile and compact forms to follow. Thermoelectrics/thermovoltaics /photovoltaics may go down this path, anywhere from a few years to a decade behind (in some, but not all applications).
_It is an interesting time to be alive, literate, and connected.


Volkswagen are difficult to figure out.

On the one hand, they've got senior engineers/press-releases etc exclaiming that liquid biofuels are far more efficient / practical / environmentally / economically viable etc than hydrogen...

And then they've also got an active H2 research programme going on. What's going on? Who's in charge?

Paul Dietz

at temperatures about 50% higher

This statement is physically illiterate. Talking about ratios of temperatures is only meaningful when discussing temperatures measured on an absolute scale (such as the Kelvin scale).

Rafael Seidl

Clett -

VW is a huge company. The fuel cell research was probably started many years ago and is now bearing fruit. Having spent significant sums on it, including government grants, VW has an obligation to shareholders and taxpayers alike to deliver some tangible results.

Biofuels became all the rage more recently; ACEA carmakers are under the gun to meet their voluntary CO2 commitments by 2008 (or else). There is no fundamental discrepancy in advocating one technology for the near and medium term and another for the long term.

I just happen to believe that the rate of progress in both biofuels and batteries is now high enough that we may never see fuel cells capture a significant slice of the market. However, it's wise to have a few extra arrows in your quiver just in case your assumptions don't pan out.

Note that GM, Ford and DCX are also all actively pursuing fuel cells while promoting biofuels.


I think it is a marketing question of how much range the consumer wants versus what they need. If I have a 400 mile range in my car now, is a 200 mile range acceptable? Do I need a 400 mile range or do I just want it? Is the fact that I can not refuel just about anywhere in a matter of minutes important? When technologists are so sure of what we need, maybe they need to consider market factors as well.

Cheryl Ho

DME developments in China today:
Since DME has an advantage of decomposition at lower temperature than methane and LPG, R&D for hydrogen source for fuel cell has been carried out.

If you would like to know more on the latest DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:

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