The US Department of Energy (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) announced up to $39 million in available funding to support early stage research and development (R&D) of innovative hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. (DE-FOA-0001874) The work supported through this investment will address key early-stage technical challenges for fuel cells and for hydrogen fuel production, delivery, and storage related to hydrogen infrastructure.
Anticipated R&D topics include:
Topic 1: Energy Materials Network (EMN) ElectroCat. This topic will leverage the Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat) to accelerate the development of catalysts made without platinum group metals for use in fuel cells for transportation. The EMN consortia have been established to make unique, world-class capabilities at the national laboratories more accessible to industry, facilitating collaborations that will expedite the development and manufacturing of advanced materials for commercial markets.
This topic seeks platinum group metal-free oxygen reduction electrocatalyst and electrode R&D enabling cost-competitive polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, as part of DOE’s Energy Materials Network.
Applications should be at Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) of 2-3, and the funding request should be commensurate with the level of work proposed.
Proposed cathode catalyst concepts should demonstrate the potential to meet or exceed activity of 0.044 A/cm2 at 0.9 V when tested under H2/O2 and achieve a durability of 5,000 hours under cycling conditions in a PEMFC membrane electrode assembly (MEA) by 2025; this is equivalent to a PGM catalyst activity target of 0.44 A/mgPGM at 0.1 mgPGM/cm2 cathode catalyst loading.
The proposed work should include electrode development pathways addressing mass transport limitations potentially imposed by high catalyst loadings and thicknesses and performance degradation issues at high current densities, as well as demonstrate the potential to meet DOE’s 2025 MEA activity and durability targets.
The deliverable in this topic is a set of MEAs (6 or more, each with active area ≥ 50 cm2) that are made available to ElectroCat for independent testing and evaluation.
Topic 2: H2@Scale (earlier post). The H2@Scale Initiative developed by FCTO outlines a potential framework for wide-scale hydrogen production and utilization in the United States. H2@Scale recognizes and applies hydrogen’s multifaceted utility as a connectivity tool to improve the efficiency and resiliency of the electrical grid and of the transportation sector, and to realize gains in the various industries using or producing hydrogen that can enable cross-sector benefits.
This topic aims to improve the efficiency and resiliency of the electrical grid and of the transportation sector, and to realize gains in the various industries using or producing hydrogen. Some of the key research areas in this topic include materials compatibility, electrolyzer integration, and analysis.
2a) Integrated Energy Production and Hydrogen Fueling R&D. FCTO seeks applications on concepts for industry-led efforts on hydrogen-focused integrated renewable energy production, storage, and transportation fuel distribution R&D. Specifically of interest are projects which include R&D of first of a kind technology.
To address the aspect of an integrated renewable system, applications should include concepts that integrate across two or more of the steps in the hydrogen fuel pathway (below) and perform system verification testing to help guide future early-stage R&D needs.
Renewable hydrogen transportation fuel pathway of interest
The pathway depicted above is currently challenged by capital costs, reliability, energy consumption, and footprint of current technologies. Most retail stations for hydrogen in use today are located in California, where 33% of the hydrogen sold from stations deployed with government funding must be sourced from renewable sources; hydrogen produced through steam methane reforming (SMR) of natural gas still comprises the majority of hydrogen sold.
Hydrogen is delivered to stations primarily through gaseous tube trailers and liquid tankers, but can also be produced at the stations via electrolysis or delivered via pipeline. The cost of producing, delivering, and dispensing hydrogen in early markets for light duty vehicles during recent commercial station deployments was estimated to be $13-$16/gallon gasoline equivalent (gge).
At most of today’s commercial retail stations, the price of hydrogen charged to the consumer is roughly $16/gge and most of this cost is due to delivery, bulk storage, compression, and dispensing. The average footprint of today’s liquid fuel stations is estimated at 18,000 square feet, and energy consumption is, on average, 7 kWh/kg for a representative station dispensing about 500 kg/month.
2b) Electrolyzer Manufacturing R&D: R&D to enable manufacturing techniques to reduce electrolyzer capital costs. FCTO seeks applications on R&D of manufacturing techniques to produce advanced components for multi-MW scale electrolyzers at high production volume.
One of the critical challenges facing the widespread deployment of electrolyzers is their cost; the manufacture of the components needed for these systems occurs at low production volumes, which leads to a high cost of the constituent processing steps.
2c) Breakthrough Infrastructure R&D: materials and component R&D to reduce cost and station footprint. Hydrogen fueling infrastructure for light duty vehicles is still in the early stages of growth, with fewer than 35 retail FCEV fueling stations currently open in California, and plans for expansion of development into the Northeast. Most stations currently receive hydrogen from centralized production facilities via gaseous tube trailers or liquid tankers. Ultimately, regardless of fueling pathway, a range of station capacities will be required to accommodate the hydrogen fueling demands of individual locations and regions throughout the country.
FCTO seeks applications for breakthrough innovations in hydrogen fueling materials and components that can reduce cost and footprint, and improve durability while ensuring the safety of hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Topic 3: Innovative Concepts. This topic supports applied early-stage research and development of fuel cell technologies for transportation, stationary, and early market applications, with a primary focus on reducing cost and improving durability. While the main focal points of the program’s R&D portfolio are polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells and platinum-based catalysts, the program also supports longer-term technical approaches that offer advantages over PEMFCs.
3a) Innovative Fuel Cell Membrane R&D: non-polyfluorosulfonic acid and high temperature membrane types to address critical barriers and increase performance and durability while meeting cost targets.
Although PEM membranes are available commercially, the fluorocarbon nature of the polyfluorosulfonic acid (PFSA) polymers used to make these membranes increases cost. In addition, PFSA membranes restrict the fuel cell to low temperature operation, which in turn can drive up system costs by requiring larger cooling systems, humidification, and stricter fuel purity requirements than higher temperature systems. The acidic environment and low operation temperature also limit the choice of catalyst to those that are stable and active in the fuel cell, resulting in the use of expensive Pt and Pt alloy catalysts.
FCTO seeks applications for innovations in fuel cell membrane technology that address critical barriers to increased performance and durability in one or more types of fuel cells.
Areas of interest in this subtopic include: 1) innovative alkaline exchange membranes (AEMs); 2) membranes that enable higher operating temperatures (150-400 °C) to allow for the use of lower purity fuel, the simplification or removal of BOP components, and/or potential direct use of biofuels and other liquid fuels; 3) the development of novel low-cost PEM membranes (non-PFSA) that can meet or exceed the technical targets set forth in the MYRD&D Plan59 while significantly reducing membrane cost; and 4) the development of novel ionomers that significantly improve high-current density fuel cell operation by addressing mass transport limitations while reducing ionomer cost.
3b) Innovative Reversible and Liquid Fuel Cell Component R&D: innovative concepts for reversible fuel cells or direct liquid fuel cells.
To increase the availability of flexible options for resilient stationary power and fuel cell-based energy storage, FCTO seeks applications for early stage R&D of innovative components for direct liquid fuel cells (DLFCs) and/or unitized reversible fuel cells (URFCs).
The global fuel cell market increased its growth 40% in 2016, with revenues of more than $1.6 billion in 2016 and more than 20,000 fuel cell units for material handling equipment purchased in the US alone since 2009.
Light duty vehicles are an emerging application for fuel cells that has earned substantial commercial and government interest worldwide due to the superior efficiencies, reductions in petroleum consumption, and reductions in criteria pollutants fuel cells make possible.