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DOE FCTO selects 11 fuel cell incubator projects for up to $10M in awards; exploring alkaline exchange membrane FCs

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) has selected 11 projects to receive up to $10 million in funding through the fuel cell technology incubator FOA (earlier post) in support of innovations in fuel cell and hydrogen fuel technologies. The intention of these selections is to identify high-impact technologies that are not already addressed in FCTO’s strategic plan or mainstream project portfolio.

The selected projects will support research and development efforts to address critical challenges and barriers for hydrogen and fuel cell technology development. The projects selected have the potential significantly to lower the cost or improve the performance, durability, or efficiency of fuel cells or hydrogen fuel production. For example, in contrast to industry’s primary focus, which is polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), selected projects include a higher risk, completely different approach—alkaline exchange membrane fuel cells (AEMFC)—that can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need for expensive platinum as a catalyst in the long term. Such high-risk but high-impact potential projects complement the current FCTO portfolio.

Schematic presentation of (a) a proton-exchange membrane (PEMFC) and (b) an alkaline membrane fuel cell (AMFC), both fueled either with hydrogen or directly with methanol (DMFC mode). The stoichiometric ratios of reactants and products are shown in each case. Source: Slade et al. Click to enlarge.

Conventional PEM (proton exchange) fuel cells use strongly acidic electrolyte membranes and therefore must possess high corrosion resistance; the use of expensive platinum in the electrode catalyst material has been a common approach. An alternative is the alkaline environment of the AEMFC. An NREL report summarizing the 2011 Alkaline Membrane Fuel Cell Workshop noted that:

In comparison with PEMFCs, AMFCs offer the advantage of avoiding Pt or Pt group metal (PGM) electrocatalysts, one of the primary limitations in the commercial deployment of fuel cells. … The primary advantage of AMFCs compared to traditional PEMFCs is their ability to perform efficiently and durably with non-PGM catalysts. Other advantages include increased materials stability at high pH (allowing for cheaper system materials including, but not limited to catalysts), increased electrocatalytic activity in alkaline conditions (particularly for organic fuels such as methanol or ethanol), increased fuel choices in basic environments (ammonia, borohydride), and decreased fuel crossover rates and potentially improved water management (arising from electro-osmotic drag and the flux of hydroxide ions in the opposite direction of protons in traditional PEMFCs). Conversely, there are several factors that either limit or have been perceived to limit AMFCs.

One primary issue is the chemical stability of the anion exchange membrane itself.

Selections include the following projects:

FCTO Incubator Awards
Organization Description
Advent Technologies, Inc. Advancing liquid-fueled and higher temperature fuel cell technology at the catalyst, gas diffusion electrode, and membrane electrode assembly levels for stationary and auxiliary power unit applications.
Center for Transportation and the Environment Develop 700 bar conformable hydrogen storage systems based on novel pressure vessel designs developed by the founder of High Energy Coil Reservoirs.
Gas Technology Institute Assess the technical and economic feasibility of thermal compression for cost-effective pressurization of hydrogen to 700 bar for hydrogen fueling stations, as well as demonstrate the concept in a small-scale test system.
Giner, Inc. Develop reversible fuel cells for energy storage applications based on alkaline exchange membrane technology.
Northeastern University Develop non-PGM, anion poisoning-resistant, oxygen reduction reaction electrocatalysts to replace high platinum loadings in phosphoric acid-based fuel cells for combined heat and power stationary applications.
Proton OnSite Advance alkaline exchange membrane-based electrolysis technology by developing durable and efficient PGM-free electrolysis cells.
University of California, Irvine Develop a novel photocatalyst particle-based slurry reactor with the potential for low-cost renewable hydrogen production via solar water splitting.
University of Delaware Develop a new class of anion exchange membranes with high oxidative-stability for use in cerium redox-flow batteries and with potential for use in fuel cell applications.
University of New Mexico Address a major challenge for anion exchange membrane fuel cells, which is the absence of a reliable anode catalyst for the hydrogen oxidation reaction.
Versa Power Systems Develop hydrogen production technologies using high temperature solid oxide electrolysis capable of operating at high current densities (i.e., high hydrogen production rates) and high efficiencies.
Virginia Tech Develop biological hydrogen production technology based on an in vitro synthetic biosystem composed of numerous thermoenzymes and biomimetic coenzymes.


  • Géraldine Merle, Matthias Wessling, Kitty Nijmeijer (2011) “Anion exchange membranes for alkaline fuel cells: A review,” Journal of Membrane Science Volume 377, Issues 1–2, Pages 1-35, doi: 10.1016/j.memsci.2011.04.043

  • B. Pivovar (2011) “2011 Alkaline Membrane Fuel Cell Workshop Final Report” Proceedings from the Alkaline Membrane Fuel Cell Workshop Arlington, Virginia May 8-9, 2011

  • Slade, R.C.T et al., “Alkaline Membrane Fuel Cells”. In K.-D. Kreuer (ed.), Fuel Cells: Selected Entries from the Encyclopedia 9 of Sustainability Science and Technology doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-5785-5_2, Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013



eliminate the need for expensive platinum as a catalyst
HTPEM has none on cathode.

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