Nav: Home

It's basic: Alternative fuel cell technology reduces cost

December 12, 2016

The pathway to zero-emission vehicles has taken two forks, one toward battery electric cars like the Tesla and the other toward fuel-cell-powered automobiles like the Toyota Mirai.

The University of Delaware's Yushan Yan believes that fuel-cell vehicles are the way to go, because they best preserve the advantages of gasoline automobiles: low upfront cost, long driving range and fast refueling.

But he also believes that a new fuel-cell technology may be necessary.

For Yan, that approach is a new twist on traditional fuel cells, known as proton exchange membrane fuel cells, or PEMFCs, which rely on costly platinum-based catalysts. Yan and his research team are pursuing an alternative technology, the hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cell (HEMFC), because of its inherent cost advantages.

He sees the rationale for this proposed switch as a matter of very simple arithmetic.

"To make fuel-cell cars a reality, the DOE (Department of Energy) has set a system cost target of $30 per kilowatt, which translates into about $2,400 per car," he says. "Right now, the cost for PEMFCs is $52 per kilowatt, which is a big improvement over where the technology started."

"But the catalyst accounts for only about $12 of that total, leaving $40 worth of other components. So even if we throw in some magic, we can't get the rest of the way down to the target of $30 with PEMFCs."

Yan is co-author on a new paper published in the online version of Nature Nanotechnology that he views as a roadmap to a unified strategy for HEMFC zero-emission cars based on three arguments.

"First, to become a commercial reality, fuel-cell engines have to be at cost parity with their gasoline counterparts," he says, "and moving from an acid platform with the PEMFC to a base system with the HEMFC will enable a collateral benefit in bringing down all of the associated costs.

"Then, if we agree that this is the best approach, we need to get everyone in the HEMFC research community on board. If we want to succeed, we have to work together."

Finally, Yan warns that it is insufficient just to have a lower cost.

"It doesn't work to compare our results today with those from yesterday or the day before," he says. "To succeed commercially with HEMFCs, we have to match or beat the performance of PEMFCs. It's that simple -- we can't succeed without achieving performance parity."
-end-
The paper, "Activity Targets for Nanostructured Platinum Group Metal-Free Catalysts in Hydroxide Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells," was co-authored by Brian P. Setzler, Zhongbin Zhuang, Jarrid A. Wittkopf, and Yushan Yan.

Yan is Distinguished Engineering Professor in UD's Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Setzler is a postdoctoral researcher in Yan's group, and Wittkopf is a doctoral student advised by Yan.

Zhuang is a professor at Beijing University of Chemical Technology and a former postdoctoral researcher in Yan's group.

University of Delaware

Related Energy Articles:

Quantum vacuum: Less than zero energy
According to quantum physics, energy can be 'borrowed' -- at least for some time.
New discipline proposed: Macro-energy systems -- the science of the energy transition
In a perspective published in Joule on Aug. 14, a group of researchers led by Stanford University propose a new academic discipline, 'macro-energy systems,' as the science of the energy transition.
How much energy storage costs must fall to reach renewable energy's full potential
The cost of energy storage will be critical in determining how much renewable energy can contribute to the decarbonization of electricity.
Energy from seawater
A new battery made from affordable and durable materials generates energy from places where salt and fresh waters mingle.
Shifts to renewable energy can drive up energy poverty, PSU study finds
Efforts to shift away from fossil fuels and replace oil and coal with renewable energy sources can help reduce carbon emissions but do so at the expense of increased inequality, according to a new Portland State University study
More Energy News and Energy Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...