Fuel Cell Subsystems and Components

As recommended by the 2004 National Research Council report, the program continues to increase its support for high-risk R&D that can lead to breakthroughs in fuel cell materials and component designs that lower costs, improve durability, and increase reliability. As such, it focuses its efforts on research and development of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, including fuel cell stack components (membranes, membrane electrode assemblies, bipolar plates, and advanced catalysts), fuel processors for stationary applications, and balance-of-plant components.

The status of DOE's fuel cell R&D projects is detailed in the Annual Progress Report.

Test protocols to assess the performance and durability of fuel cell components intended for automotive applications are found in the DOE Cell Component Accelerated Stress Test Protocols for PEM Fuel Cells report.

Project Summaries

Highlights of some of DOE's R&D projects to reduce the cost and improve the performance of fuel processing and fuel cell stack subsystems and components are summarized on this page.

Low-Platinum Electrode Manufacturing Demonstration

During FY 2002, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), in cooperation with W.L. Gore and Associates, a leading supplier of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) for PEM fuel cells, completed scale-up and demonstration of a high-volume pilot manufacturing process for electrode material, a crucial (and currently costly) element in the high-volume production of fuel cell MEAs. The key component of this process is a vacuum coating unit capable of producing large quantities of high-performance, ultra-low platinum per year and the potential for bringing MEA production costs below $10 per kilowatt.

A pilot manufacturing facility was installed that has the capability of catalyzing more than 100,000 square meters of electrode material per year on a two-shift basis. Several thousand square feet of electrode materials at 40 linear feet per minute have been manufactured and fabricated into MEAs, which were tested on reformate and pure hydrogen in single cells. The continuously produced MEAs compare favorably with baseline MEAs with much higher Pt loadings. Future work will focus on the durability of the low-platinum MEAs.