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What is the most promising fuel cell technology?Incheon National University and Harvard University Team Revolutionize Fuel Cell Technology with Durable Membranes

What is the most promising fuel cell technology? Incheon National University and Harvard University Team Revolutionize Fuel Cell Technology with Durable Membranes

Science News

Incheon, South Korea / Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA : In a groundbreaking study, scientists from Incheon National University and Harvard University have unveiled a new fatigue-resistant electrolyte membrane, poised to significantly enhance the durability and lifespan of fuel cells.

Diagram of a proton conducting solid oxide fuel cell.

Moreover, this innovative development promises to revolutionize the fuel cell industry and extend its applications far beyond transportation.

The Challenge of Fuel Cell Durability

Fuel cells, especially those used in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, face significant challenges. As a result of electrolyte membranes undergoing deformation and developing cracks during operation. These cracks lead to operational failures by allowing undesired hydrogen transport through the membrane. Current solutions, including radical scavengers and hydrocarbon electrolyte membranes, offer limited defense against this issue.

A Novel Solution: Interpenetrating Polymer Network

Demonstration model of a direct methanol fuel cell (black layered cube) in its enclosure.

In their recent study, published in the journal Advanced Materials on December 31, 2023, the team led by Associate Professor Sang Moon Kim from Incheon National University and Professor Zhigang Suo from Harvard University, introduces a polymer electrolyte membrane that combats fatigue. This membrane features an interpenetrating network of Nafion, a proton-conducting plastic electrolyte, and perfluoropolyether (PFPE), a durable, rubbery polymer. This unique composition strategically distributes repetitive stress, significantly increasing the membrane’s resistance to fatigue.

Breakthrough Results

The team’s research demonstrates that the Nafion-PFPE membrane, particularly the one with 50% PFPE saturation, maintains reasonable electrochemical performance while increasing the fatigue threshold by 175% and extending fuel cell lifespan by 1.7 times. This remarkable improvement is a significant advancement in the field, offering a practical solution to one of the most pressing issues in fuel cell technology.

Beyond Transportation: A Spectrum of Applications

Construction of a high-temperature PEMFC: Bipolar plate as electrode with in-milled gas channel structure, fabricated from conductive composites (enhanced with graphite, carbon black, carbon fiber, and/or carbon nanotubes for more conductivity). Porous carbon papers; reactive layer, usually on the polymer membrane applied; polymer membrane.

This breakthrough extends its potential impact well beyond fuel cell vehicles. The enhanced stability, durability, and performance of this fuel cell system can lead to innovations in a range of industries, including drones, personal air vehicles, backup power sources, forklifts, bicycles, and scooters. Additionally, the approach for enhancing fatigue resistance could be adapted for ion filters, battery separators, and actuation systems, offering applications in desalination filters, flow battery separators, lithium metal battery separators, and artificial muscles.

A Vision for the Future

Sketch of Sir William Grove‘s 1839 fuel cell.

Dr. Kim envisions a future where this technology is widely applied, offering solutions to environmental challenges and advancing various high-durability technologies. The study marks a significant step towards realizing the full potential of fuel cells in a sustainable and efficient manner.

The collaboration between Incheon National University and Harvard University showcases the power of international cooperation in addressing global challenges and advancing technology for a better future.

Title of original paper: Fatigue-resistant Polymer Electrolyte Membranes for Fuel Cells

Journal: Advanced Materials

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202308288

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Fuel cell boat (Hydra), in Leipzig, Germany.

What is the most promising fuel cell technology? Incheon National University and Harvard University Team Revolutionize Fuel Cell Technology with Durable Membranes