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Making It Happen: Commercializing Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Electrolyzers

Pajarito Powder to provide advanced catalysts to Colorado School of Mines on

Smog, pollution, climate change. It’s impossible to turn on the news without hearing about the environmental threats faced by modern society.

Many believe that hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers could be the key to creating sustainable energy in the future. Despite significant investments in these promising technologies, cost and durability are still problematic. This is due to expensive catalysts and low volumes of manufacturing for the electrolyzers and fuel cells components.

Mines assistant professor of chemistry, Svitlana Pylypenko and  Jasna Jankovic, assistant professor of materials science and engineering from the University of Connecticut (UConn)  are teaming with industrial partners Pajarito Powder and Forge Nano, the U.S Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany (ISE) to accelerate the development of high volume fabrication of components to facilitate the development of sustainable and zero-emission energy generation technologies.

The team will compare the impact of various processes for scale-up of electrolyzer and fuel cell electrodes on electrode morphology and performance, based on innovative and state-of-the-art catalysts. With the Partnership for Innovations grant from the National Science Foundation, Jankovic and Pylypenko, who is the principal investigator on the project, will provide a common platform for advanced and sophisticated characterization for the developed products and establish process-properties-performance correlations. This will make it possible for other industrial partners to develop the tools and replicate this process, which will further increase commercialization of this technology.

The main barrier to the widespread adoption of polymer electrolyte fuel cells for the automotive application and electrolyzers for hydrogen production is the cost of the fuel cell or electrolyzer stack. There is also a lack of knowledge surrounding the performance of electrodes made with catalysts that have novel morphologies and chemistries.

The team plans to deliver 25 gram batches of novel catalyst produced at scale by Pajarito Powder, an industrial partner in this project, to insure viability of electrode fabrication. Forge Nano, another industrial partner, will enhance durability using their atomic layer deposition approach. NREL and Fraunhofer ISE, funded via state and national government resources, will produce the electrodes using a range of methods and perform in situ testing of the electrodes to elucidate performance. Correlations between catalyst composition and morphology, structure and ink processing parameters and properties, electrode structure and membrane electrode assembly performance will be identified for a set of commercially available catalysts, as well as novel catalysts produced under this project by industrial partners. This will provide feedback to current and other potential industrial partners that synthesize catalyst for use in innovative new technologies.