UConn researchers developing tubular PEM fuel cell
29 August 2022
A team of UConn researchers led by Jasna Jankovic, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering, has devised a novel design for a tubular polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell.
Planar fuel cells can be bulky, have compression issues, and uneven current distribution. Other drawbacks include problems with reactant gas transport, excess water removal, and fabrication challenges associated with their design. The U Conn researchers say their design addresses those shortcomings and improves on existing tubular PEM fuel cell designs, most of which take a planar PEM fuel cell and curl it into a cylinder.
Jankovic and two grad students, Sara Pedram and Sean Small, took a more holistic approach that rethinks tubular fuel cell design from the ground up. Their patent-pending concept could potentially have nearly twice the energy density of other tubular PEM fuel cells, be 50% lighter, have a replaceable inner electrode and electrolyte (if liquid), a leak-proof configuration, and require fewer precious metals.
In a paper presented at the 241st ECS meeting in June, Pedram and Jankovic noted that tubular-shaped PEMFC offers several advantages over planar one, including lower pressure drop, efficient water removal, reduced mass transport losses, and cost reduction owing to removing one of gas diffusion layer/bipolar plate (GDL/BPP) side.
Planar fuel cells are constructed using sandwich-like stacks of large, rectangular flow field plates made of graphite or metal, which account for about 80% of their weight and 40% of their cost. UConn’s design uses a single tube-shaped flow field that reduces its weight by half.
This work developed a carbon nanofiber (CNF)/Pt-based cathode for a tubular fuel cell. The tubular CNF support for Pt catalyst was fabricated employing the electrospinning method. Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) was used as the precursor. The electroless deposition of Pt using the chloroplatinic acid solutions was applied to produce well-dispersed low Pt loading nanowires. The tubular CNF/Pt electrodes were characterized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), ex-situ cyclic voltammetry to determine the CF and Pt morphology and feasibility of the prepared layer in PEMFC application.
SEM images indicated that increasing the Pt precursor concentration in the plating bath leads to higher Pt loading and larger Pt clusters on the CNF surface. The calculated electrochemical active surface area (ECSA) trend imparts that high Pt loading is less favorable as thick Pt layers lead to low Pt utilization and increased material costs. ECSA results agreed with SEM images, suggesting that the medium Pt concentration (1.5 g L-1 Pt precursor) developed a homogenous Pt distribution and comparable Pt surface area of 24 m2 gPt-1 for the Pt loading of 0.046 mg cm-2, proving the feasibility of the proposed process.—Pedram and Jnkovic (2022)
The U Conn tubular PEM fuel cell concept is still in discovery and has I-Corps and Partnership for Innovation (PFI) funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This program was created to spur the translation of fundamental research to the marketplace, encourage collaboration between academia and industry, and train NSF-funded faculty, students, and other researchers in innovation and entrepreneurship skills.
Participating research teams have the opportunity to interview potential customers to learn more about their needs. Jankovic and her team conducted some 60 interviews during a UConn Accelerator program in early 2022 that helped them size up the market and answer important questions about whether or not to start a longer process, make the product themselves, or license the technology to another company.
Jankovic led the team as PI, with Pedram and Small acting as Entrepreneurial Lead and Co-Lead respectively. Lenard Bonville, the team’s industrial mentor, will support the team with his decades of industrial experience. The team will conduct another set of 100 interviews with industry to discover the market for their product and get guidance on its final design. NSF-Partnership for Innovation (PFI) funding will then be used to develop a prototype and pursue commercialization.
Jankovic’s team is working toward obtaining a full patent on their design and thoroughly testing the concept. In the short term, they are focused on commercializing the technology and attracting potential partners.
Jankovic envisions creating a fuel cell roughly the size of a AA battery however, as a scalable and modular technology, it could be scaled-up to any practical size. The cylindrical shape would allow for more fuel cells to occupy the same amount of space as those in use now and be cheaper to manufacture, Invernale said. Jankovic views her fuel cell design as a replacement for Lithium-Ion batteries.
S. Pedram, J. Jankovic (2022) “Fabrication and Performance Evaluation of Tubular Catalyst Layer for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell” ECS Meeting Abstracts MA2022-01(35):1429-1429 doi: 10.1149/MA2022-01351429mtgabs
A. Tang, L. Crisci, S. Pedram, J. Jankovic (2020) “Comparison of planar and tubular flow field plates for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) through simulation” ECS Transactions, 98 (9) 343-353 doi: 10.1149/09809.0343ecst
Oh how I love comparative claims without referencing any absolute figures!
Posted by: Davemart | 29 August 2022 at 02:23 AM
What do H2-trolls and lobbyists have in common? Well, first of all they hold themselves to be more clever than anyone else. Additionally, they not only know everything, they know everything better than anyone else. If they're not on the payroll of those they are praising above the limits of the sky, then they must be more scrupulousness and stupid than anyone else.
H2 is certainly not the solution to all presently encountered energy problems.
Posted by: yoatmon | 29 August 2022 at 08:42 AM
There is a lot of investment in H2 research; and the same problems keep popping up: 1.) Because hydrogen is bound up so tightly with other atoms, it is expensive and energy-intensive to extract and purify. 2.) storage and transmission are very difficult because it causes major embrittlement of metal vessels, pipelines and proposed direct burn internal combustion engines. 3.) Experimental hydrogen fuel cells shows them to be expensive and inefficient. 4.) If H2 is used as a substitute for gasoline, it requires 3,000 times the space for storing the equivalent amount of gasoline..
I think some day, H2 can be useful for powering transportation devices, such as airliners and seaships; But we have a long way to go and frankly, I would rather see the money go into battery tech than into the dream brought forth by the fossil fuel interest of a direct substitute for gasoline.
Posted by: Lad | 29 August 2022 at 01:59 PM
Since you are ignoring just about everything about the realities of hydrogen storage and use, including the just fine range etc of existing fuel cell vehicles like the Toyota Mirai, which manage perfectly well with the volumetric density of hydrogen, and means such as that by Syzergy on this very page at GCC of efficiently stripping hydrogen from bonding materials, there is no sensible debate to be had, as your eyes are firmly closed.
Posted by: Davemart | 30 August 2022 at 03:02 AM