DOE funds research into phosphonium-based hydroxide exchange membranes for fuel cells

A professor at the University of California, Riverside has won a grant to study quaternary phosphonium-based hydroxide exchange membranes for use in next-generation fuel cells. The award is from the Department of Energy’s newly formed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds transformative energy research projects.

Professor Yushan Yan, in the Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside, will focus on the development of a new generation of high-performance hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells (HEMFCs). The DOE citation says that Yan’s application is ‘part of an ARPA-E portfolio of high impact projects that have great potential to revolutionize the US energy sector.’

By switching the electrochemical reactions in fuel cells from an acidic medium to a basic one, and utilizing a highly conductive hydroxide exchange membrane (HEM), high-performance hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells (HEMFCs) are radically different from the proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) that have been intensively researched and developed over the past two decades.

Yan believes that HEMFCs can solve some of the most significant commercialization barriers of PEM fuel cells, including catalyst cost and durability, while at the same time achieving PEMFCs’ high power and energy density. Yan’s project will develop a series of technologies to produce commercially viable high-performance quaternary phosphonium (QP)-based HEMs with high hydroxide conductivity, outstanding alkaline stability, and suitable dimensional stability.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the funding decisions for 37 projects, after reviewing more than 3700 qualified concept papers that were submitted. Modeled after the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARPA-E was established under the America Competes Act of 2007. Yan’s project is part of the first round of projects funded under ARPA-E, which is receiving a total of $400 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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