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INSPIRE Report Summary

Project ID: 700127

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INSPIRE (Integration of Novel Stack Components for Performance, Improved Durability and Lower Cost)

Reporting period: 2016-05-01 to 2017-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The INSPIRE project addresses a number of key technical development issues for fuel cell components, and furthermore involves the major industrial players in Europe spanning the entire supply chain for the critical automotive stack components. As such, the project is not only well-placed to develop a step-change in automotive stack capability, but will greatly enhance European competitiveness on the world stage, in this rapidly growing market.

The specific aim of INSPIRE, an industry-led project, is to integrate together the most advanced MEA components available either commercially, developed within other FCH-JU funded programmes and/or further developed at scale within the INSPIRE project itself. All the components had to have been already demonstrated consistently in the laboratory (TRL4) and will be demonstrated to TRL6 in advanced generations of automotive stacks in the INSPIRE project. In order to achieve this, the key objectives in the framework of the 36-month project are 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 (BOL) 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 can achieve the 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.

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

• WP1: Project management has proceeded smoothly, with effective communication between the partners. All 14 deliverables that were due to be submitted by M18 (according to the revised schedule agreed with the Project Officer in December 2016) bar one have been submitted, and the two project milestones (catalyst and performance) due by M18 have both been met. Project progress was backed up by strong communication between the partners with 68 intra-WP calls and meetings, plus monthly project web-meetings and also face-to-face project progress reviews with the Steering Group at 6-monthly intervals.

• WP2: Fully integrated stack requirements have been set with strong emphasis on delivering key components in relevant automotive conditions.

• WP3: The catalyst and support development work package has, from the onset, and via benchmarked and validated tests, been extremely ambitious to deliver catalyst materials from lab to production-capable scale through a stage-gate process. This process has now yielded four different supports into the project tasks and four catalysts meeting the project mass activity and stability requirements allowing progression on to catalyst layer design assessment. Three of those catalysts, which exceeds the original intent for the project of one (or possibly two), have now moved to scale-up and into WP4.

• WP4: The catalyst coated membrane (CCM) development has seen a very good material and information exchange with FCH JU funded project VOLUMETRIQ pushing the PBI and ePTFE membrane support development further with a range of alternative ionomers. The membrane electrode assembly (MEA) design has shown a significant cost and performance improvement from the GEN 1.0 to the GEN 1.5 MEAs, integrating new substrate components from WP5 and optimising the catalyst layer. The modelling activity within this work package has also made progress in improving the production of the 3D pore model of the catalyst layer by FIB-SEM (Focussed Ion Beam – Scanning Electron Microscopy) and as a result of machine learning this will now be used to analyse aged and unaged samples going forward.

• WP5: Some early delays to the design freeze were encountered within WP5, to ensure that the flowfield design could meet, as closely as possible, the set specifications agreed in WP2. The MEA and stack components were then specified, designed and manufactured for the GEN 1.0 and GEN 1.5 stack builds. With over 600 bipolar plate and MEA components each manufactured, it was possible to meet the GEN 1.0 1.2W/cm2 milestone (Milestone 2) and a 396-cell GEN 1.5 stack has also been built and leak tested.

• WP6: Single cell, short stacks and full stack housing have been designed, manufactured and built. These tools are now in full use for assisting developments in WP4 and 5.

• WP7: Dissemination and communication activities have ranged from outreach activities, web presence, newsletters and flyers at various events. Ten scientific presentations and posters have already taken place by M18, and a publication is in preparation for submission early in RP2.

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 INSPIRE project, having reached its mid-point, has achieved all of its technical targets for the reporting period. Remarkably, three catalyst supports and four catalysts have already met the performance and stability targets set by the project stage-gate process and three of those catalysts have now moved to full scale-up and evaluation into MEAs. The development of components comprising the membrane electrode assembly, gas diffusion substrate, bipolar plates and stack housing have all been integrated into a first full size stack generation achieving the performance milestone of 1.2 W/cm2 and will now aim for the end project performance target of 1.5 W/cm2.

These breakthrough achievements coupled with the strong EU supply chain being developed and the direct “at scale” commercial viability of the components will draw a clear path forward for automotive fuel cells to become reality.

Exploitation: INSPIRE is a project driven from the automotive OEM technical needs with the stated aim of taking components at TR4 to TR6. As such, all work packages are presenting 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, will also reinforce these ties and exploitation opportunities going forward.

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