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Ecolectro secures $1.7M ARPA-E award for development of alkaline exchange membranes and ionomers for fuel cells and electrolyzers

Ecolectro Inc., a developer of low-cost, high-performance polymers for electrochemical applications, announced its selection by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for an award that will support the continued development of its alkaline exchange ionomers and membranes. These alkaline exchange materials are used to fabricate membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) in hydrogen fuel cells and in electrolyzers used for hydrogen production.

Alkaline fuel cells (AFCs) that are assembled with alkaline anion exchange membranes (AAEMs) have several significant advantages in comparison to state-of-the-art proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). (1) Increased pH in AFCs accelerates the rate of the oxygen reduction reaction, which lowers fuel cell cost if non-platinum electrode catalysts are used. (2) Oxidation of direct alcohol fuels (e.g., methanol and ethanol) is also significantly faster in AFCs. (3) Perfluorinated polymers (i.e., Nafion) for PEMFCs not only are expensive but also hamper the recycling of Pt.

Hundreds of AAEMs have been prepared over the past decades for the development of AFCs as well as other applications, including high purity H2 production from water electrolysis, redox flow batteries, and gas separation. However, widespread applications of AAEMs have not been achieved yet because most AAEMs degrade rapidly under the standard operating conditions (e.g., high pH and high temperature).

—You et al.

Ecolectro’s polymers do not require high-cost platinum group metals, a feature that significantly lowers the cost of hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers. The membranes have unmatched chemical stability, high conductivity and are mechanically robust and provide a simple and durable route to clean renewable electricity and hydrogen production.

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Ecolectro says that customers using this technology can manufacture fuel cells and electrolyzers with half the cost and double the durability of current state-of-the-art systems.

Tetrakis is Ecolectro’s flagship anion exchange membrane (AEM). The defining feature includes an exceptionally stable phosphonium cation appended to a hydrocarbon-based polymer backbone.

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Internal studies have shown no chemical degradation for more than 120 days of accelerated alkaline testing conditions. Moreover, the hydroxide ionic conductivity is 22 mS/cm at room temperature, providing enough conductivity for commercial fuel cell and electrolysis systems.

The hydrocarbon-based polymer backbone provides excellent mechanical properties allowing the casting of strong and thin membranes necessary for high-performance operation. In addition, the hydrocarbon backbone allows for recycling of the electrocatalyst material at the end of component life.

Ecolectro will be partnering with Proton OnSite and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for this project.

We are pleased that ARPA-E and Department of Energy recognizes the value of our breakthrough technology. Their significant investment affirms our product development and corporate growth strategy.

—Dr. Kristina M. Hugar, CSO of Ecolectro and Principal Investigator on the project

Ecolectro is a client company of the Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences at Cornell University and received support from the National Science Foundation and NYSERDA.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will be supporting part of the project, as part of its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ARPA-E to work together to stimulate development of high-potential, high-impact clean energy technologies in New York State.

Resources

  • Wei You, Kristina M. Hugar, and Geoffrey W. Coates (2018) “Synthesis of Alkaline Anion Exchange Membranes with Chemically Stable Imidazolium Cations: Unexpected Cross-Linked Macrocycles from Ring-Fused ROMP Monomers” Macromolecules 51 (8), 3212-3218 doi: 10.1021/acs.macromol.8b00209

Comments

HarveyD

If this technology leads to lighter, cheaper, longer lasting electrolysers and fuel cells, it will have major impacts on the energy and transport industries while lowering pollution and GHGs.

What can be done to accelerate R & D and mass production?

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