What are the limiting factors in the introduction of PEM fuel cells into mobile power generation? What areas of research are being carried out to address these limitations and which of these do you feel will have the biggest impact in enabling the various types of fuel cells systems? Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells have first been developed in the 1960s by General Electric to be used on their first NASA manned vehicles (Gemini program). Then different kind of fuel cells has been experimented, for different purposes but they have never been produced in large quantities. Nevertheless, in the last decades, with the new concerns about global warming, green house gases as CO2 and pollution, their development skyrocketed and huge improvements have been made. Indeed fuel cells are a "clean" technology, as no harmful exhaust emissions are produced (the only products are pure water and heat), and the only CO2 emissions would be made when producing electricity to obtain hydrogen . With a renewable energy source to produce electricity, no CO2 at all would be produced. An example with fuel cells vehicle is shown on figure 1.
[...] These European Union funds will be completed by the same amount of money brought by the private industry area At this occasion, the European Commissioner (Günther Verheugen) in charge of Industry and companies claimed that “Fuel cells vehicles introduction might make European air cleaner and could reduce the dependence of Europe on fossil fuels” Same political interest can be seen in the US, and the idea of hydrogen replacing fossil fuels in the future (the “hydrogen economy”) is even predicted by some scientists Today of the research and development activity is focused on PEM fuel cells, because of all their promising properties, and most of the current commercially developed applications are using PEM fuel cells (buses, cars). [...]
[...] Research on new MEA technologies As we saw in the previous part, the most important costs in a fuel cells are entailed by the membrane and by the need to use the expensive platinum catalyst. To decrease the cost of the catalyst used in the PEM fuel cells, researchers try to develop a mixture of platinum and ruthenium to replace the expensive platinum. This new catalyst would be needed in smaller quantity for the same efficiency. Such systems are currently under consideration It is also under consideration to enhance the recycling processes of platinum, in order to reuse platinum from used fuel cells in a more efficient way, and then decreasing the production costs. [...]
[...] Conclusion PEM fuel cells performance are seen like the most promising technology, which could become the most used way to power mobile applications in the future. To reach that goal, huge quantity of money and efforts are spent to make this technology viable. To my mind the researches dealing with storage system using solid hydrides as lithium and researches on new membranes materials as the Single Wall carbon NanoTubes, are of the highest interest (the most important part of research deals with these topics). [...]
[...] It has been safely used in industry processes (chemical industry uses it to produce agricultural fertilizers for decades and can currently reach a great level of safety in mobile applications and thus not being a real limiting factor for fuel cells development. But to gain more public acceptance, it still has to prove its safety by demonstrating long time operation without any accident. Current areas of research 1 Research addressed to hydrogen storage The issue of providing hydrogen to power the fuel cells is seen as one of the major limiting factors to the widespread use of PEM fuel cells, and numerous research activities are trying to improve the current hydrogen storage systems in order to achieve compact and efficient solutions. [...]
[...] Fuel cell related issues 1 High Costs of the fuel cells When compared to other powering systems used on mobile devices as the Internal Combustion Engines for the cars or the different kinds of batteries for laptops or cell phones, PEM fuel cells costs are still not competitive. Indeed for instance, current automobile engines costs are between $35 and $50 per kW while ,for the same purpose, a fuel cell would cost around $100 per kilowatt These figures don't take into account the onboard energy storage, which again would be of higher cost for the PEM fuel cells. [...]
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