Ballard PEM fuel cell using 80% less platinum for release this year

A Non Precious Metal Catalyst from Nisshinbo reduces stack cost by eliminating most of the precious metal.

September 13, 2017

Ballard FCgen-1040 prototype fuel cell stack, with Non Precious Metal Catalyst (NPMC).
Photo: Ballard Power Systems

VANCOUVER — Ballard Power Systems is collaborating with a Japanese environmental and energy company to develop a non precious metal catalyst (NPMC) for use in the world’s first commercialized NPMC-based proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell product.

Nisshinbo and Ballard, a Vancouver-based developed of fuel-cell technology, have collaborated on the development of NPMC since 2013.

Ballard plans to launch a new 30-watt FCgen-1040 fuel cell stack incorporating NPMC for commercial use later this year.

The NPMC-based fuel cell stack will be a variant of Ballard’s FCgen-micro stack, derived from air-cooled technology designed for integration into ultra lightweight applications.

Ballard says the technology reduces platinum used in an air-cooled fuel cell stack by more than 80%. Platinum contributes 10% to 15% of the cost of a stack.

In a PEM fuel cell, the membrane electrode assembly is formed by placing a catalyst-coated membrane between two gas diffusion layers where the catalyst has been precious platinum metal. When hydrogen gas flows across one side of the MEA and oxygen flows across the other side, an electrochemical reaction occurs, splitting hydrogen into protons and electrons, with the electrons captured as electricity. Combining fuel cells together to form multi-layer stacks increases the amount of electricity that can be produced.

The amount of platinum catalyst-coated material used in fuel cells, known as platinum loading, has been successfully reduced over time. Nisshinbo’s NPMC is based on a carbon alloy material that further reduces the cost of an air-cooled fuel cell stack.

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