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2014 DOE Annual Merit Review Meeting (Fuel Cell Topics Recap)

June 20, 2014

U.S. Department of Energy Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation Meeting (DOE AMR Meeting) was held in Washington, DC June 16-20, 2014. Sponsored by DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program and Vehicle Technologies Office, the AMR Meeting is an annual event for exchanging ideas, reporting developments, and establishing collaborations among governmental offices, national labs, industry, and academia.

2014 AMR banner2014 DOE Annual Merit Review Meeting


From 2004-2013, DOE granted $2.5 billion for hydrogen and fuel cell research and development. The funding in the past fiscal year is $145 million. The investment led to hundreds of patents and some of them have turned to commercial technologies. As raised every year, cost, durability, and performance are the main issues to be solved. The performance of catalysts goes down after multiple cycles. The efficiency is only 27% for current fuel cells. The cost of energy is $55/kw. Although the price has been reduced by 30% since 2008 and 50% since 2006, it is still challenging to reach the goal of $40/kw by 2020, and $30/kw ultimately. (source: DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program record)

Fuel cell catalysts

Catalysts are the essential part of fuel cells. The general goals in this research include improving the activity, reducing the use of Platinum Group Metals (PGM, thus reducing the price) by incorporating non-PGM in alloys or core-shell structures, and increasing the stability of catalysts in terms of poisoning, running cycles, and voltage.

Dr. Dennis van der Vliet (3M) reported their achievements in making durable catalysts for fuel cell protection during transient conditions. Dr. Radoslav Adzic (Brookhaven National Laboratory) showed their work on synthesizing high performance and stable Pt monolayer on inexpensive nanostructures as oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts. This research is partly relevant to a project I am working on which deals with shape-controlled gold nanocrystals covered with platinum shell. Dr. Sanjeev Mukerjee (Northeastern University) applied various approaches to synthesize iron-based catalysts for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFCs). Dr. Anusorn Kongkanand (General Motors) investigated Pt-Ni dealloyed catalysts which show high activity. Dr. Branko Popov (University of South Carolina) studied ultra-low doped Pt/activated carbon composite catalysts for PEMFCs.

Other relevant interesting work

Dr. Piotr Zelenay (Los Alamos National Laboratory) talked about their progress in developing portable methanol fuel cells. In terms of materials, they used PtRu nanotubes, PtRuCu nanowires, and PtRuPd catalysts. They also looked into supporting materials and other aspects. These fuel cells can tolerate long running time with optimized conditions.

For studies on electric vehicles, a cool research is wireless charging which may free the cars from physically connecting to the station. Dr. P.T. Jones (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) reported that they can achieve 85% efficiency at 6.6kW wireless charging. They will test Toyota electric cars soon. A similar work led by Dr. Allan Lewis (Hyundai) is also underway. Both of them claimed that the charging process is harmless to human body or to electronic device at a safe distance.

How far are we from driving fuel cell cars?

Fuel cell cars for daily use have been introduced and advertised by car makers such as Toyota and Honda. There are also ongoing projects funded by DOE focusing on developing fuel cell trucks and airport supporting buses.

However, one big concern for potential customers is the safety of carrying hydrogen and oxygen tanks on a car. If not well designed, they can be turned into bombs. It is good to know that serious studies have been performed in several institutions. Dr. Eric Brosha (Los Alamos National Laboratory) reported their progress in developing hydrogen sensors. They tested various conditions such as high temperature, wind, vibration, and even effect of spiders. Those sensors can be used for stationary and infrastructure applications, and are extendable to vehicle protection. Dr. Nick Barilo (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) presented the efforts from Hydrogen Safety Panel, and showed their mobile app which is a fast safety information resource. The app aims at combining all the safety information in one place for people to check and learn. Besides that, their knowledge websites and have accumulated increasing number of visitors and making broad impacts over years.

Another issue that may be an obstacle for the acceptance of fuel cell cars is how easy can a hydrogen fueling station be accessed. The cost of building a fueling station is several times more expensive than building a conventional gas station. However, those stations have to be ready for use before fuel cell cars go to the market. It is an investment that no one can guarantee the return. At present, the government and a handful of car makers are sharing the risk by building fueling stations starting from California. Moreover, DOE has supported a project called Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST) to reduce the cost and time of building the fueling stations, and to improve the reliability of the construction (Fuel Cells Bulletin, 2014, 5, 7–8). If everything goes smoothly, hopefully we may expect to see fuel cell cars soon.


Related articles:
Recap for 88th ACS Colloid & Surface Science Symposium 
Highlights of 58th EIPBN Conference 
A Brief Note for ISMPC13 
2013 DOE Catalysis Working Group Meeting 


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