High-Throughput Method to Develop Alkaline Fuel Cells

Schema of the combinatorial co-sputtering, © RUB, WdM

The NEMEZU project launched at the beginning of 2016 is expected to develop high-throughput methods to screen new types of material combinations quickly but close to a real-life fuel cell environment. This project is planned to map the entire supply chain involved in producing alkaline fuel cells – from electrolyte materials and the manufacturing of electrocatalysts in nanoparticle size to the production of a membrane electrode unit and the integration of the components into an individual cell.

The path toward clean energy supply without the need for fossil fuels requires energy conversion systems that produce no CO2 emissions and operate at great efficiency. Additionally, electricity produced by renewable sources must be stored intermittently in form of chemical energy to counter the high volatility associated with them. Fuel cells and electrolysis systems are regarded as key technologies to do just that.

The availability of the polymer electrolyte membrane Nafion ® strongly favored the development of acid PEM fuel cells and their corresponding catalyst systems. But despite considerable progress, the use of catalysts made from precious metals remains essential to manufacturing these cells, and corrosion (e.g. at the carbon carrier material) leads to limited lifetime.

Benefit of alkaline fuel cells (AFC)

Conversely, alkaline fuel cells present manufacturers with the tremendous opportunity to initiate the reaction by using catalysts made from non-precious metals, such as cobalt, nickel or manganese as well as their alloys. The greater availability of these materials compared to precious metals facilitates the ecological use of fuel cells and allows for great cost savings. To tap into the extensive technological and economic potential, the researchers participating in the NEMEZU project, which has the backing of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, intend to develop new types of catalyst systems for alkaline fuel cells based on the aforementioned metals in nanoparticle size. The spotlight is on …

Developing materials libraries


In situ high-throughput screening

Highly promising market opportunities

Alkaline fuel cells offer enormous cost-reduction potential, as they require neither catalysts made from expensive precious metals, nor pricy polymer electrolytes. Since the other components (e.g., H2 tank, pumps, sensors, etc.) can be the same as in PEM fuel cell manufacturing, the opportunity arises to develop a fuel cell system which is not only technologically superior to prior acid fuel cells, but which is also economically viable enough to be established as a mass-market product.

Alkaline fuel cell workshop


Dr.-Ing. Corinna Harms and Dr. Wiebke Germer

both from NEXT ENERGY × EWE-Forschungszentrum für Energietechnologie e.V., Oldenburg

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