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Ballard, Nisshinbo collaborate to offer first PEM fuel cell using non-precious-metal catalyst

Ballard Power Systems has collaborated with Nisshinbo Holdings to develop a Non-Precious-Metal Catalyst (NPMC) for use in the world’s first commercialized NPMC-based proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell product. Nisshinbo and Ballard have jointly collaborated on the development of NPMC since 2013. (Earlier post.)

Ballard has successfully incorporated the Non Precious Metal Catalyst into a high performing catalyst layer under a Technology Solutions program and plans to launch a new 30-watt FCgen-1040 fuel cell stack product incorporating NPMC for commercial use in late-2017.

Ballard FCgen‐1040 prototype fuel cell stack, with Non Precious Metal Catalyst (NPMC). (CNW Group/Ballard Power Systems Inc.) Click to enlarge.

The NPMC-based FCgen-1040 fuel cell stack will be a variant of Ballard’s FCgen-micro fuel cell stack, derived from the company’s air-cooled fuel cell technology designed for integration into ultra-lightweight applications.

We are delighted that this collaboration with Nisshinbo has enabled the development of an innovative breakthrough technology to reduce the amount of platinum in an air-cooled fuel cell stack by more than 80%. The NPMC-based FCgen-1040 stack represents a step-change in PEM fuel cell technology with high performance at a reduced cost. Since platinum contributes 10-to-15% of the cost of a fuel cell stack today, we are very excited about the potential cost savings NPMC technology can enable moving forward.

Based on the success of this program and the step-change in PEM fuel cell technology represented by the new Non Precious Metal Catalyst, we are interested in exploring its use for various commercial applications. The work done to date represents an important part of our Japan strategy where we are focused on breakthrough technology development with select Japanese partners as well as penetration into the Japanese hydrogen economy with strategic channel partners in key applications.

—Dr. Kevin Colbow, Ballard’s Vice President – Technology and Product Development

In a PEM fuel cell, the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) is formed by placing a catalyst-coated membrane between two gas diffusion layers where, until now, the catalyst has been precious platinum metal. When hydrogen gas flows across one side of the MEA and oxygen flows across the other side, an electrochemical (non-combustion) reaction occurs, splitting hydrogen into protons and electrons with the electrons captured as electricity. Combining fuel cells together to form multi-layer stacks increases the amount of electricity that can be produced.

The amount of platinum catalyst-coated material used in fuel cells, known as platinum loading, has been successfully reduced over time. Nisshinbo’s Non Precious Metal Catalyst is based on a carbon alloy material which further reduces the cost of an air-cooled fuel cell stack.

Ballard and Nisshinbo jointly presented a paper entitled “Non-Precious Metal Catalysts: Cathode Catalyst Layer Design Considerations for High Performance and Stability” at the SSI-21 Conference held in Padua, Italy in June 2017. The presentation was shortlisted to receive the ISE Best Oral Presentation Award for its work showing the highest ever reported performance for a NPMC-based PEM fuel cell and the comparison to performance of a PEM fuel cell using a platinum catalyst.

Nisshinbo provides low-carbon, optimized products across a range of business lines, including chemicals, precision instruments, electronics, automotive brakes and textiles. Nisshinbo has been a long-time leading global supplier of carbon plates used in the construction of PEM fuel cells for various market applications. Nisshinbo has been a strategic supplier of compression molded bipolar flow field carbon plates to Ballard for over 20 years. In November 2015, Nisshinbo also became a strategic equity investor in Ballard. (Earlier post.)




This process, when scaled from 30 watts to 30+ KW and mass produced in an automated fatory, could produce lower cost efficient FCs for FCEVs and Hybrid FCs?

Good news for H2 generation.


Moving from lab to application. There have been several over the years but none have made it to initial trials.


Since PEM electrolysis is an endothermic reaction, they can take waste heat from a power plant cooling section to make hydrogen to use with CO2 from the plant to make fuels. The oxygen is sold to offset costs.


Use natural gas/digester gas in SOFC/SOEC with no precious metals combined with renewable energy and pure CO2 from the SOFC.

The Lurking Jerk

@ SJC:
I am surmising (don't know it to be fact) that not enough heat would be made from this new PEM technology and that the actual temp isn't high enough anyway.
And, once you extract enough heat from this new fuel cell, you'll drop its operating temperature below the minimum it needs for electricity production.
I'm not just a nay-sayer, I'm very much in favor of a simple fuel cell design that can run on other than hydrogen (for example, natural gas.


Who said anything about extracting heat from a PEM? I said you have to provide heat to an electrolyzer. You can extract heat from and SOFC, it is high enough temperature and there is lots of it, if you don't extract the heat it can damage the stack.

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