Polymer Membrane Materials for Fuel Cells and other Energy Applications

July 26, 2007 - 12:00pm

Fuel Cells are a major energy conversion component for the Hydrogen Economy. In particular, Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells have been focused upon for light vehicle transportation purposes where the cell reduces oxygen and oxidizes hydrogen to form water and electricity. Unfortunately, due to the poor catalysis of the oxygen reduction reaction PEM fuel cells are not very efficient in converting the energy content of the hydrogen to electricity with almost half the energy resulting in heat generation. For a four passenger vehicle the heat management requires a radiator size that is not competitive. Higher operating temperatures (120oC) can solve the heat management problem but result in a complex water management system that is needed to hydrate the polymer membrane to make it conductive. The DOE's Office of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Infrastructure Technologies has established a High Temperature Membrane Program to address the problem. This talk will describe research now underway at LBNL, LANL and 3M to develop new membrane materials that can allow the fuel cell to operate at higher temperature (120oC) without the need for added water. This work involves a multidisciplinary approach that targets everything from the fundamental mechanisms of electron and proton transfer, through polymer synthesis and characterization, electrochemical engineering and all the way to vehicle systems analysis. The main principles of these activities will be summarized to provide a picture of how this information is used to design new materials. These principles can also be applied to other energy systems than fuel cells and some time will be devoted to how this work can contribute to the Lab's Helios initiative.

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