German-Canadian fuel cell cooperation
For many automobile manufacturers, fuel cell propulsion systems have become one of the most promising future drive concepts. At present, high material and manufacturing costs, for example for the platinum in the catalyst, prevent widespread market penetration. A German-Canadian research collaboration is developing new catalyst systems, electrodes, and membrane electrode assemblies that can manage with only a small amount of platinum.
Using hydrogen and oxygen, fuel cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The technology is not only efficient but also clean since the end product is just water. Areas of application are, for example, fuel cell vehicles or battery chargers. Fuel cells are also used in submarines and in spacecraft.
Most automobile manufacturers worldwide now regard fuel cell propulsion as one of the most promising future drive concepts. In particular for long-distance transport, there are hardly any alternatives at the moment. Assuming that an infrastructure based on hydrogen obtained from renewable sources can be established, fuel cell vehicles have superior efficiency to vehicles with combustion engines, they do not produce any harmful emissions, and they represent a much reduced noise nuisance.
In order to be marketable, fuel cells must be able to compete in the long run with combustion engines in terms of cost and durability. Cost estimates for future fuel cell drives show that, assuming commercially relevant production runs, the costs of fuel cell stacks are determined by their noble metal or platinum content. In PEM fuel cells, platinum is found, amongst other things, in the noble-metal-containing catalyst. However, without platinum the fuel cell would not be able to function. Platinum-free catalysts frequently do not display the desired performance and stability, which would make them irrelevant for the automobile industry if their performance were not significantly improved.
In the research project German-Canadian Fuel Cell Cooperation: Diagnosis and Development of Components for Automobile Fuel Cells (DEKADE), coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), since early 2017, scientists have been developing novel catalyst systems, electrodes, and membrane electrode assemblies that only need small amounts of platinum. They are also developing a model to describe the membrane electrode assembly.
The aim is to develop membrane electrode assemblies which are more economical and simpler to fabricate, and which at the same time display the required performance properties and durability. The other partners involved are the manufacturer of PEM fuel cell components, Greenerity, the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg, and Volkswagen AG.
In addition, there are plans to continue the collaboration with Canadian research institutes in view of the leading role worldwide played by both Canadian fuel cell research and Canadian fuel cell companies. The research project takes as a starting point the performance-determining effects of PEM fuel cells, which have been funded since 2009 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.