Currently, fuel cell cost reduction and long life are major priorities for fuel cells to be commercially successful for vehicle, stationary, or portable power applications. In the last five years, Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has formulated and developed a low cost, long lifetime, high conductivity proton exchange membrane (PEM) yielding state-of-the-art fuel cell performance. Additionally, a non-coated, corrosion-resistant metal alloy bipolar separator plate has been patented and tested for both hydrogen-fueled and direct methanol fueled PEMFC applications. Tests in fuel cells plus out-of-cell ASTM corrosion tests have shown very low corrosion rates under fuel cell operating conditions. Metal alloy separator plates have run for over 23,000 hours in cells with corrosion rates an order of magnitude less than the DOE target of 1 μA/cm2. GTI’s fuel cell polymer membrane research focused on three criteria: (1) use of low cost materials; (2) polymer structures stable under fuel cell operating conditions; and (3) performance equal or better than current Nafion membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs). Fluorine-containing polymers were eliminated due to cost issues, environmental factors, and the negative influence fluorine ion loss has on metallic separator plates. The polymer membrane material was synthesized and cast into films, then fabricated into MEAs. The cost of the membrane (raw materials plus film processing materials) is estimated to be less than $10/m2 — or less than 10% of available technology. A variety of out-of-cell testing showed the membrane has sufficient strength, flexibility, and conductivity to serve as an ion conducting membrane for fuel cells. A series of 60 cm2 active area single cells and short stacks were operated over a wide range of fuel cell conditions, showing state-of-the-art MEA performance with long-term polymer stability.

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