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Towards next generation of PEMFC: Non-PGM catalysts

As a step towards this ultimate goal, the priority of the project is to develop and test at single cell scale Non-PGM catalysts on the cathode side with sufficiently improved performance and durability compared to the current State-of-Art of Non-PGM catalysts. This step is focused on the cathode side as the Pt loading on the anode side is currently significantly lower than the one on the cathode side. However, reduction or elimination of PGM on the anode is also in the scope. Development on membrane, bipolar plate, or gas diffusion layer is not the subject of this topic.

The project shall address the targets defined in the expected impacts and, as far as possible, evaluate solutions to reach the ultimate ideal goal of the topic step by step (same performance and durability than with pure Platinum). These targets shall be demonstrated under the EU harmonized testing procedures [3] and especially EU harmonized test protocols for PEMFC MEA testing in single cells configuration for automotive applications. A collaboration mechanism needs to be developed with the JRC, in relation to the ongoing EU protocol harmonisation and validation activities performed in support of the FCH2-JU programme.

The proposal should also include:

• Benchmark of SoA low-TRL Non-PGM catalysts.

• Diagnostics and analysis tools to better understand durability, performance, electrochemical reaction mechanisms, active site densities, protonic and electronic conductivities, mass transport limitations such as electronic microscopy, modelling, specific local diagnostics and instrumentation, specific tests.

• Assessment of cost, life-cycle and commercial exploitation potential of the proposed solutions compared to the state-of-the-art solutions.

The proposals shall build on results from past or on-going FCH-JU projects dealing with substitution of Platinum for PEMFC.

The proposals should include a clear go-no go decision at mid-term as a basis to decide on the follow-up of the project. The go-no go criteria shall be based on the targets listed under section Expected Impacts.

The consortium should include research organizations, universities, a catalyst manufacturer; and OEM. International collaboration in this field is highly encouraged, especially with IPHE members.

TRL at the beginning of the project: 2

TRL at end of the project: 3

Any safety-related event that may occur during execution of the project shall be reported to the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), which manages the European hydrogen safety reference database, HIAD (dedicated mailbox

The FCH 2 JU considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 2.75 million would allow the specific challenges to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected duration: 3 years

[3] European harmonised testing protocols:

The 5th objective of the FCH 2 JU [1] addresses the reduction of critical raw materials [2]. This is the main challenge of this topic. In addition, increase in the competitiveness of European partners in manufacturing Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEAs) and Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) stacks by reducing the cost of PEMFC stacks and gaining novel materials knowledge is also a major objective of this topic.

An estimated 30% of the cost of PEMFC is driven by the use of Platinum (Pt) as a very effective hydrogen oxidation and oxygen reduction catalyst in low temperature PEMFC fuel cells. In addition, Pt is sensitive to contamination from impurities in the hydrogen and certain air contaminants. Many projects are already dealing with decreasing Pt loading in MEAs, but to ensure Europe's competitive position and to reduce market pressure on the use of scarce noble metals, it is mandatory that the transition to a next-generation PEMFC using Platinum Group Metals-free (PGM-free) catalysts is made as quickly as possible, and that promising routes are explored to remove Pt and other critical raw materials from PEMFC. The ultimate ideal industrial goal is to manufacture PEMFC stacks for transport application with Non-PGM catalysts, and with performance and durability comparable to the targets defined for Pt.

[1] Council Regulation (EU) No 559/2014 of 6 May 2014 establishing the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking.

[2] List of critical raw materials:

The proposals shall allow reaching the following targets

  • Increase the performance of Non-PGM catalysts
    • increase Oxygen Reduction Reaction (ORR) performance to reach at least
      • 75 mA/cm² @0.90 V (iR-free, 1bar, 80°C, H2/O2, RH 100%)
      • 44 mA/cm² @0.90 V (iR-free, 1bar, 80°C, H2/air, RH 100%)
    • Increase the performance up to 600 mA/cm²@0.7V; ~ 0.42 W/cm² (no iR-correction, 2.5 bar anode and 2.3 bar cathode, 80°C, H2/air, RH 50% anode and 30% cathode, Stoi=1.3 anode and 1.5 cathode, according to harmonized European testing conditions)
    • analyze and reduce the transport losses in the catalyst layer: ionomer, MEA design and optimization, ink formulation and/or MEA process
  • Increase the durability of Non-PGM catalysts:
    • Loss of performance @ 1.5 A/cm² (FC-DLC European cycle, 1000 h): < 30%
    • Analyze the degradation mechanisms: Accelerated Stress Tests, operating and mitigation strategies, sensitivity to pollutants…
  • Demonstrate the performance in Rotating Disk Electrode (RRDE)
  • Demonstrate the performance and durability in single cell: at laboratory scale (at least 25 cm²) and at industrial scale (at least 200 cm²)

and shall also contribute to

  • Reduce the MEA active area cost by > 60% for equivalent power (10 to 100 kW) compared with the current State-of-the-Art (SoA)
  • Increase the tolerance to impurities (in particular sulphur species and CO)
  • Better understand the routes to improve the performance and durability of Non-PGM catalysts for automotive applications