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HPEM2GAS Report Summary

Project ID: 700008
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HPEM2GAS (High Performance PEM Electrolyzer for Cost-effective Grid Balancing Applications)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2017-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The large-scale deployment of wind power and solar energy sources will strongly contribute to the implementation of Europe’s energy policies objectives. However, these resources are characterised by intermittent behaviour and their fluctuations affect the stability and reliability of the electrical grid. Consequently, there is a strong need for rapid-response, cost-effective and scalable energy storage systems capable of absorbing the electrical power exceeding the capacity of a transport and distribution line. This will considerably reduce the investments needed to build a new grid infrastructure.
Hydrogen produced from water electrolysis can play a significant role as energy storage medium. Electrolysis can support the electricity grid in terms of power quality, frequency and voltage control, peak shaving, load shifting and demand response. In this regard, electrolysers should be designed to follow the variable energy generation profile of renewable power sources locally available and to adapt to the intermittent profile of electricity supply.
The overall objective of the HPM2GAS project is to develop, validate and demonstrate robust, flexible and rapid-response self-pressurising PEM electrolyser technology based on advanced cost-effective components with dynamic properties for interfacing to the grid. The project addresses both stack and balance of plant innovations and culminates in a six month field test of an advanced 180 kW PEM electrolyser. In particular, the electrolyser developed will implement an advanced BoP and improved stack design and components (e.g. bipolar plates, membranes, electrocatalysts).
Several strategies are applied to lower the overall cost, thus enabling widespread utilisation of the technology. These primarily concern a three-fold increase in current density (resulting in the proportional decrease in capital costs) whilst maintaining cutting edge efficiency. And applying a material use minimisation approach in terms of reduced membrane thickness whilst keeping the gas cross-over low, and reducing the precious metal loading. Further, improving the stack lifetime and a reduction of the system complexity without compromising safety or operability. All these solutions contribute significantly to reducing the electrolyser CAPEX and OPEX costs. HPEM2GAS also aims to deliver a techno-economic analysis and an exploitation plan to bring the innovations to market.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Harmonised protocols for characterisation of system components and electrolysis system assessment were developed in the first phase. In parallel, a complete set of technical and operational requirements for field-testing was established.
Advanced catalysts and membranes were developed in the first 18 months of the HPEM2GAS project. Short-side chain (SSC) perfluorosulfonic acid (PFSA) Aquivion® membranes and ionomers were developed and scaled up for this application. Utilizing a nanosized Ir0.7Ru0.3Ox solid solution anode catalyst and a supported Pt/C cathode catalyst, in combination with the Aquivion® membrane, gave excellent electrolysis performances exceeding 3.2 A·cm-2 at 1.8 V terminal cell voltage (~80% efficiency) at 90 °C. A degradation rate as low as 8 μV/h after 4,000 h operation at 3 A cm-2 at 80 °C was recorded. A scaling-up of the selected formulations and further optimisation of the manufacturing procedure of the catalyst inks and membrane-electrode assemblies was carried out. A specific study of the ink formulation and processing was made for the novel ionomers and catalysts using wet electrode fabrication routes with the aim of improving electrochemical characteristics and to provide optimal rheology.
Stack development activities produced an efficient and compact design. To eliminate expensive machining costs, traditional bipolar plates have been replaced for lower-cost components and injection-moulded parts. The novelty of the stack design developed in HPEM2GAS lies in the gas generation part of the stack being de-coupled from ancillary services with a unique single acting hydraulic cylinder providing compression to the stack. This makes possible high differential pressure operation, with hydrogen at working pressure and oxygen at ambient pressure. Cells containing coated components typically displayed a relatively stable voltage, indicating that the coating used was able to provide adequate protection. Stack tests with coated components showed an average voltage degradation rate for the stacks ≤5 µV/h/cell for 8,000 hrs when operated at 3 A cm-2, 50–55°C and 15 bar differential pressure. Short periods (2 h) of increased current density from 3 A/cm2 to 4.5 cm-2 appeared to have had little effect on the voltage.
Fact based assessment of a state of the art PEM Electrolyser was reported. New electrolyser assessment is planned for the second phase. Regarding field testing activities, interfaces to local construction ground in Emden (Germany) have been finalized. Contacts to local authorities and established documents for approval were completed and test scenarios were defined.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The progress beyond the state of the art regards tripling the electrolysis current density with respect to state of the art of commercial PEM electrolysers (from 1 to 3 A cm-2) with an efficiency higher than 80 % (HHV), materials use minimization with total PGM loading < 0.5 mg cm-2, development of thinner (90 µm) short side chain PFSA membranes with reduced cost, demonstration of a novel stack geometry and coated stack components allowing a reduction in stack hardware costs while showing excellent stability at 3 A cm-2.
The novel components and stack design developed in the first phase will be validated in an advanced PEM electrolyser in the second phase of the project. This will be interfaced to electricity and gas grids in Emden for a > 6 months field test. The expected impact of the HPEM2GAS project is related to the sustainable hydrogen production which can meet an increasing share of the hydrogen demand for energy applications from carbon-free or lean energy sources. The scope of the project is to carry materials research, technology development and to reduce the total life cycle costs related to present PEM electrolysers by replacing current commercial materials for membranes, catalysts with higher performance and lower cost materials as well as advance in stack manufacturing and system development for grid-balancing service and power to gas applications. The innovative membrane, low noble metal loading electrocatalysts and novel stack architecture developed in the project can significantly contribute to reduce the present costs of PEM electrolyser components. The aim is to reach a stack cost <3.7 M€/tpd H2. These systems can be matched with high coupling efficiency to local grids sharing large fraction of renewable energy from wind turbines (0.5 - 10 MW) and find suitable application for power-to-gas processes by feeding the produced hydrogen into the gas grid. All these activities are addressed to contribute to the road-map related to the achievement of a large-scale decentralised hydrogen production infrastructure.

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