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DOE awarding $2M to CMU-led project to develop PGM-free cathodes for fuel cells

The US Department of Energy is awarding roughly $15.8 million for 30 projects working toward the discovery and development of innovative, low-cost materials needed for hydrogen production and storage and for automotive fuel cells (earlier post).

Of those 30 projects, Carnegie Mellon University Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Shawn Litster has been selected to receive $2 million in funding as principal investigator of his multi-institution team’s research project, “Advanced PGM-free Cathode Engineering for Higher Power Density and Durability.”

Litster’s work falls into the DOE’s category of PGM-free Catalyst and Electrode R&D, which aims to develop catalysts and electrodes from materials other than platinum grade metals.

In our project, we are taking a comprehensive approach to dramatically reducing fuel cell costs by combining advanced high activity, stable catalysts with novel electrode designs to increase the power output and efficiency. Our work will benefit from the advanced materials processing and characterization tools available to us here at CMU, including our nano-scale resolution X-ray CT system.

—Shawn Litster

In an invited paper at the 231st meeting of the Electrochemical Society (ECS), Litster and his colleagues from CMU and Los Alamos National Laboratory summarized recent progress in research targeting development of high-performance PGM-free catalysts for oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

They discussed two approaches will be discussed in a greater detail: (i) an approach involving fine-tuning of the catalyst porosity and surface area using pore-forming compounds and (ii) a method specifically focusing on the development of atomically dispersed transition metal moieties and avoiding the formation of transition metal-rich nanoparticles during the heat treatment of catalyst precursors.

Litster and his collaborators will conduct their research within the Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat), part of the DOE’s Energy Materials Network (EMN) lab consortia that supports the DOE’s goal of expediting the development of advance materials. ElectroCat works through pooled national laboratory expertise to accelerate the development and deployment of PGM-free catalysts and electrodes for use in a broad range of catalytic structures.

Selections for funding were made within the DOE under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office annual funding announcement (FOA). This year’s FOA is further developing research on fuel cell electric vehicles using hydrogen made from different domestic resources.

In my view, fuel cell vehicles are critical to achieving large reductions in petroleum consumption for transportation and the associated benefits to mobility and the environment with vehicle electrification. Fuel cells are a key way to electrify larger, longer range vehicles, such as light duty trucks and buses, where the cost and weight of batteries are prohibitive.

—Shawn Litster

In addition to Litster’s work, the FOA is also funding research in categories of Advanced Water Splitting Materials, Hydrogen Storage Materials Discovery, and Precursor Development for Low-Cost, High-Strength Carbon Fiber.




High Temperature PEMs do not use platinum on the catalyst.


This is not a large amount of $$$ but it could help to design and build:

1. Improved lower cost electrolysers to mass produce clean H2.
2. Improved compressors and very light containers for compressed H2.
3. Improved FCs for fixed usage and heavy trucks, buses and LDVs.

If cities are serious, they could provide another $150M/year to further advance H2 technology development to reduce pollution created by heavy trucks, buses, suvs, pick-ups and to make better use of REs.


The non word "competiveness" has been used for decades. Corporations will not do R&D and the government is too broke.


Why not use private capital instead. There is numerous investment banks in the world to pay for these patent researchs with their spare change. If they discover something, will the goverment own the patent and collect fees ?


Governments normally provide seed $$$ but rarely make any revenues/profit.

DT may change the way USA does it?

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