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DOE Awards RPI $1.6M to Develop New Fuel Cell Manufacturing Technology and Processes

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) a $1.6 million grant to create new technology and processes for faster, more cost-effective manufacturing of fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs). Consisting of a stacked proton exchange membrane (PEM), catalyst, and electrodes, MEAs are the core of a fuel cell. One of the barriers to more widespread adoption and use of fuel-cell technology is the high cost of their manufacture.

Ray Puffer, principle investigator of the project and program director for industrial automation at Rensselaer’s Center for Automation Technologies and Systems (CATS), in collaboration with Rensselaer collaborators Daniel Walczyk, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, as well as CATS Director John Wen, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, will develop materials, designs, and adaptive process controls for MEA manufacturing.

The new system we plan to develop is essentially a high-speed, high-quality assembly process for fuel cell MEAs. If successful, we anticipate this project will yield a major reduction in the time it takes to make MEAs, as well as improved uniformity, less defects, and lower manufacturing costs. The end result will be cheaper, more reliable fuel cells for everyone.

—Ray Puffer

The team will work to automate new sensing technology into the MEA pressing process, to help ensure fewer defects and greater uniformity of performance.

The second main objective is to reduce the time it takes to press and assemble MEAs. To accomplish this, Puffer and his team will develop a novel, robust ultrasonic bonding process for assembling and fusing together the different components of high-temperature PEM MEAs. Ultrasonic welding uses high-frequency vibrations and pressure, rather than heat, to conjoin two pieces of metal or plastic. Early ultrasonic pressing designs and experiments have been promising, Puffer said, and have the potential to reduce the pressing process of a single MEA to less than one second.

To be cost effective, the time it takes to manufacture a single MEA must be measured in milliseconds, or at most, a few seconds. Similarly, the time it takes to assemble a stack must be measured in seconds or minutes, instead of hours.

—Ray Puffer

The new DOE grant awards $1.61 million over 42 months. An additional $870,000 in cost share by project participants brings the total project budget to nearly $2.5 million. Partnering with Rensselaer are: Arizona State University, of Tempe, Ariz.; BASF Fuel Cell GmbH, of Germany and Somerset, N.J.; Progressive Machine and Design, LLC, of Victor, N.Y.; and UltraCell Corp., of Livermore, Calif.

The CATS is supported by the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) as a designated Center for Advanced Technology.



Just how expensive are fuel cells large enough to power a car? I have read that fuel cells now cost around $4,500 per kW, would an equivalent of 150 hp cost 111.86 * $4,500? (111.86 kW equals 150 hp) according to the converter. That can't be right. I have read elsewhere that a car fuel cell costs somewhere around $50,000, but other sources claim that it would cost just $30,000. I googled the question and got answers that were all over the park. I even hit Wikipedia and they claimed fuel cells are being produced that cost around $1,000 per kW. I also have never seen an accurate number on how expensive the Chevy Equinox's were to build.
It seems like ER-EV's and BEV's have a lot better chance of being buildable at a reasonable price. Maybe that money being spent on fuel cells by the government would be better spent just buying up hundreds of IMievs, GEM's, and when they get here, Volts and Model S Tesla's. Get rid of the government sedans, let Geithner and Hillary come to work in an American built Tesla Model S! The Fed's could encourage states and counties to buy Volts for their car of choice, instead of gas guzzling ICE's. That way the money would be encouraging the production of cars that are only slightly more expensive than their ICE competition. And if enough of the ER-EVs are built the price will come down, possibly to a cost lower than the equivalent ICE. Gasoline prices are going to go nowhere but up and domestically produced electricity is a lot healthier, in every way, than foreign oil.
End of rant.


They lose money on every hybrid being sold but make it up on volume.


Ill explain ziv.

Its not a cost per kw issue right now its more a cost to run the company making them issue. Back just a short while ago they made maybe 10 fuel cell stacks a year and needed 10 million to operate so every stack had to cost 1 million.

Now however they make 3-400 stacks a year at some places and only need say 20 million now to operate so each stack only costs as little as 50 grand.

The actaul cost to MAKE the things if mass produced would be about 73 bucks a kw as of 2008 or so and will hit 30 in 2015... industry wide.. but some can already do better then 70 per kw and will hit 30 per in just 2012 or so.

Also some are batch producing fuel cells in the 1000s and plan to move to 10s of thousands by 2010. Others are still one off making them. Also as if all that wasnt bad enough some are using tech many gens old while others are using tech far better some fuel cells are the size of a v8 engine while others even more powerful are the size of your home pc and as if all that wasnt hard enough to keep straight there are many different kinds of fuel cells and even many different kinds of what seems to be the same type of fuel cell...

But we do have some hard data.. the honda clarity will cost around 20 million to make all 200 of them. Back a few years ago the fuel cell stacks made by ballard used in a bus test cost around 450 grand each but were a 2001 design. A later bus test elsewhere used fuel cells that only cost 150 grand each and lasted many times longer and were smaller yet had many times the output power.

In short things are moving rather fast to cheaper per unit costs and MUCH smaller units belting out alot more power and lasting far longer. IF this keeps up even a few more generations we should see them start being cheaper then high performance engines and more powerful too all while lasting 1 million miles.


They have reduced the amount of platinum required, so that helps reduce cost. The fact that they are not in production keeps costs high. But I do not think that we know where we are going with PEM fuel cell cars.

Chrysler had the NECAR series that reformed methanol to hydrogen on board the car. That seemed like a practical way to go, but then latest NECAR uses compressed hydrogen. Now Exxon is talking about reforming gasoline to hydrogen on the car. It seems to be a case of Back to the Future. Surging ahead and retrenching may be a wasteful way to go.


They only say that because one of the better ways to make an h2 fuel cell car would be to have 2 tanks. One pure h2 in a 5k psi tank and the other a liquid fuel tank running to a reformer. Much like a erev its a transitional thing until more h2 filling stations pop up.

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