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Integration of Novel Stack Components for Performance, Improved Durability and Lower Cost

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INSPIRE (Integration of Novel Stack Components for Performance, Improved Durability and Lower Cost)

Reporting period: 2017-11-01 to 2019-10-31

The INSPIRE project has addressed a number of key technical development issues for fuel cell components and involved major industrial players in Europe spanning the entire supply chain for the critical automotive stack components. As such, the project has led to a step-change in automotive stack capability and will greatly enhance European competitiveness on the world stage, in this rapidly growing market.

The overall aim of INSPIRE, an industry-led project, was to integrate together the most advanced MEA components available either commercially, developed within other FCH JU funded projects and/or further developed at scale within INSPIRE itself, and to validate them in stacks. All the components had to have already been demonstrated in the laboratory at TRL4 and have now been demonstrated to TRL6 in advanced generations of automotive stacks in INSPIRE. In order to achieve this, the key objectives in the framework of the 42-month project were to:

• Realise the potential of new world-leading stack components (electrocatalysts, membranes, gas diffusion layers and bipolar plates) and integrate these into fuel cell stacks to deliver an increased automotive beginning of life power density of 1.5 W/cm2 at 0.6 V.
• Demonstrate the ability of the stack to achieve over 6,000 hours operation with less than 10% power degradation, over an operationally-relevant drive cycle.
• Provide a cost assessment study that demonstrates the stack could achieve an automotive stack production cost below the target of 50 €/kW for an annual production rate of 50,000 units.
• Progress the establishment of a series of new stack materials and components from laboratory demonstration to full demonstration of scaled materials in practical fuel cell hardware under relevant conditions, involving continued development and optimisation of the technology and demonstrating the manufacturing scalability.

Each of these objectives was met bar the cost target which was nevertheless within 10% and represented a significant step forward. Furthermore, several new catalysts and MEA concepts were developed which are pushing the stack performance and durability and will be taken further in subsequent FCH JU projects.
• WP1: Project management was effective throughout INSPIRE, with strong communication between a consortium of active and engaged partners, and regular face-to-face and web meetings. A grant amendment request for a 6-month extension was submitted and approved in October 2018 which enabled a better feedback loop between the different stack generation designs and adequate time for testing. Synergies between INSPIRE and other FCH JU projects were clearly developed and strengthened.

• WP2: Within the first 18 months of the project, fully integrated stack requirements and protocols were defined and these continued to be reassessed throughout the project to support the delivery of the key components in automotive-relevant conditions. The economic assessment was completed in the last period resulting in an overall cost of 55 €/kW (excluding PGM) for a production volume of 50,000 stacks/year, which is slightly higher than the 50 €/kW target but does not include any cost-down assumptions with respect to the overall supply chain, as these are very difficult to predict, or improvements to quality control automatisation or further process or material improvements.

• WP3: Six different approaches to catalyst development were followed: alloy/de-alloyed, core-shell, faceted surfaces, nanoframes, extended thin films and nanowire-coated fibres. Two catalysts were successfully scaled up and evaluated, with two 2 kg batches completed for the most promising Pt/Ni de-alloyed catalyst. The catalyst work package met its final mass activity target of 0.6 A/mg Pt.

• WP4: The catalyst coated membrane components, namely the membrane, anode and cathode catalyst layer, were developed in tandem with the bipolar plate (BPP) in WP5 in order to maximise both performance and durability. The polybenzimidazole (PBI) supported membrane work built on developments from the VOLUMETRIQ project (Grant No. 671465), by successfully introducing alternative ionomers with the PBI support.

• WP5: Throughout the project, the stack components were continually developed, with a first design delivered at Month 18 and the second stack design delivered in July 2019 (Month 39). During the last reporting period, the GEN 3.0 BPPs were finalised using a combination of computational flow modelling (CFD) and the learnings from the initial stack testing phase. Overall, three types of GDLs, 2588 MEAs and 1860 stack plates (bipolar, unipolar and coolant plates) were delivered and scaled up in accordance with the project objectives. Furthermore, the final GEN 3.0 stack design proved successful in demonstrating the project power density target of 1.5 W/cm2.

• WP6: Two separate single cells were designed and provided to BMW and JM for prototype testing, and twenty short stacks and two full-size stacks were tested. Two new housing and compression plates were developed with the final iteration compatible with vehicle integration. The final GEN 3.0 stack demonstrated a power density of 1.5 W/cm2 at 0.6 V and delivered a peak power of 170 kW, equivalent to a cell-pack-only volumetric density of 5.7 kW/l and a weight density of 4.2 kW/kg. The degradation observed was 22-29 µV/hr, but the test does not yet reflect real operating conditions, and an acceleration factor of two is believed to be at play.

• WP7: A total of 25 oral and poster presentations and 8 accepted publications (another 1 has been submitted) represent significant scientific dissemination and demonstrate the strong scientific quality of the work carried out within INSPIRE. Strong links and synergies with other European projects have also underpinned the project and culminated in a shared workshop with 10 other FCH JU projects in March 2019.
The INSPIRE project has achieved all of its technical targets for the reporting period. Remarkably, four catalysts met the performance and stability targets set by the project stage-gate process and three of those catalysts were moved to full scale-up and evaluation into MEAs. Two catalysts were ultimately moved to at-scale evaluation of 2 kg demonstrating world-leading performance. The development of components comprising the membrane electrode assembly, gas diffusion substrate, bipolar plates and stack housing have all been integrated into two full-stack designs and achieved the end-of-project performance target of 1.5 W/cm2 and, more importantly, world-leading volume densities of 5.7 kW/l.

Exploitation: INSPIRE was a project driven from automotive OEM technical needs taking components at TRL4 to TRL6. As such it has presented exploitation opportunities for the industrial partners, with catalyst, membrane, substrate and bipolar plates being not only scaled up but also challenged and developed with respect to their commercial viability. The direct involvement of leading EU suppliers, using a common test platform and a full shared technical understanding, has also reinforced these ties and exploitation opportunities going forward. For the academic and institutional partners, INSPIRE has been an important project as it has enabled the understanding and integration of industrial requirements as well as helping train qualified personnel to develop the innovations needed for the future of European fuel cell development and business.
INSPIRE GEN 3.0 bipolar plates
INSPIRE GEN 3.0 full stack
FIB-SEM reconstruction
INSPIRE Nanoparticle catalyst development
Gas diffusion substrate scale-up