A recent breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cell technology has shown promising advancements in performance and durability. This new design utilizes grooved electrodes that allow for separate transport of oxygen and protons, resulting in faster movement and higher fuel cell performance. The research conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory team suggests that improving the architecture of materials can be just as impactful as developing novel materials.
By reimagining the electrode design using conventional commercially available materials, the researchers achieved up to a 50% increase in performance compared to current state-of-the-art technology. This development has significant implications for next-generation fuel cell technology, particularly in powering medium- and heavy-duty transportation with zero emissions.
Hydrogen fuel cells, specifically proton exchange membrane fuel cells, offer an emission-free engine design that relies on hydrogen as the fuel source. These fuel cells have the potential to revolutionize the transportation sector, which has proven challenging to decarbonize.
The study, published in the journal Nature Energy, highlights the importance of innovative design approaches in optimizing fuel cell performance. By leveraging this grooved electrode design, researchers have demonstrated the potential to enhance the power density, efficiency, and longevity of fuel cells, paving the way for more sustainable transportation solutions.
Design promotes efficiency and durability
In a fuel cell device, the process of electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen produces an electric current that can be utilized to power external devices like electric motors. To facilitate these reactions, the fuel cell electrodes play a crucial role. They consist of a platinum-based catalyst, which enables the reaction, and an ion-conducting polymer (ionomer) that transports the protons necessary for the reaction to occur.
Jacob Spendelow and his team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory developed an innovative grooved electrode design that enhances the efficiency of transporting oxygen and protons within the fuel cell device. Using techniques such as photolithography and deep reactive ion etching at a small scale, the researchers fabricated the electrodes by patterning silicon templates at the micrometer level. The resulting electrode structure comprises catalyst ridges with a high ionomer content, separated by grooves. These grooves serve as pathways for the efficient movement of protons and oxygen through the system.
To evaluate the performance of the grooved electrode design, the team employed various diagnostic techniques, along with multiphysics modeling and simulations. The integration of machine learning aided in optimizing the calculations for the multiphysics modeling, effectively reducing computational time. Notably, the grooved electrode design also exhibited improved durability, even when subjected to carbon corrosion.
A history of innovation
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s fuel cell program is actively exploring various innovative designs for fuel cells, and the grooved electrode approach is one of their notable endeavors.
More than three decades ago, the original fuel cell membrane electrode assembly was pioneered at Los Alamos. However, the design of fuel cells currently in use has seen minimal changes since then. Jacob Spendelow emphasizes that the grooved electrode design represents one of the first alternative electrode designs that can replace the longstanding Los Alamos electrode.
Moving forward, the fuel cell team at Los Alamos intends to further develop and refine the grooved electrode design. They aim to collaborate with research and development initiatives focused on manufacturing processes to address the specific requirements of large-scale production. The long-term objective is to scale up the fabrication techniques for widespread implementation in a roll-to-roll manufacturing facility. This approach would enable high-speed and cost-effective production, aligning with their vision for future fuel cell deployment.
By pursuing these goals, Los Alamos National Laboratory aims to drive innovation in fuel cell technology and contribute to the advancement of sustainable energy solutions.
Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory