Heart of the fuel cell

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers have started a new research project on the component that is often referred to as the heart of a fuel cell , the polymer membrane.


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers have started a new fundamental research project on the component that is often referred to as the heart of a fuel cell – the polymer membrane.



Researchers are testing a new type of polymer membrane, created at Rensselaer, for potential use in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell and hydrogen applications. The project is funded by a projected three-year, $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.



“Fuel cells have great potential to contribute to energy solutions, but basic research is needed to better understand how parts of the system can be optimised so that fuel cells can be further developed into applied technologies,” says Brian Benicewicz, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rensselaer, director of the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis at Rensselaer, and principal investigator for the project.



The grant is part of the federal Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, a commitment of more than $64 million in research and development projects aimed at making hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and refuelling stations available, practical, and affordable for American consumers by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.



“Our research team has developed a new polymer membrane that may facilitate hydrogen separation, purification, and transport at high temperatures,” says Benicewicz. “Optimising conditions for the purification and separation of hydrogen is an essential component to the fuel cell system that requires fundamental research for development. As part of this project, these membranes will be tested for use in applications that support this goal.”



Benicewicz is collaborating on the project with Glenn Eisman, research professor and director of the Center for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research at Rensselaer; Sanat Kumar, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer; and Steven Greenbaum, professor of physics at Hunter College of the City University of New York.



The researchers will study membrane transport as it relates to conductivity mechanisms, electrode interaction, and system modelling.



For more information about Rensselaer’s focus on fuel cells, click here for the latest issue of the Rensselaer Research Review. To learn about energy security research at Rensselaer click here.