Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEM)
Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Date: 7/1/93    Record No.: 10003
Contact: Glenn Rambach, 510-423-6208

Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEM)
New ideas include both applications/market concepts for current PEM technology, and new materials and manufacturing concepts.

The market ideas: Recognize that an automotive power plant currently costs less than $100/kW, compared with $500-2000/kW for electricity generation. As a starting market niche for PEM, therefore, the automobile is by far the hardest place to start, by perhaps an order of magnitude. Better applications to try would be ones with lower unit size and/or higher value. For golf carts (which need only a few kW) PEMs are within a factor of 2 or 3 of the cost of what is currently on the market.

The proposition, then, is to put PEM units into a high-end golf cart. Next, a business infrastructure to support a fleet of them could be put in place.

In technology, LLNL is working on a new material for the PEM electrode that could dramatically lower cost and manufacturing complexity. The idea is to use carbon aerogels for the electrode, and to make membrane-electrode assemblies.

Elsewhere, PEM is gaining a lot of new interest. B&W is reported to have bought into a couple of small manufacturers, and Dupont and Dow Chemical can be expected to try to leapfrog each other with improved technology for the membrane material.

In early January, DOE issued Program R&D Announcement inviting proposals for advanced fuel cell concept development in SOFC, PEM, and Balance of Plant Components. As the solicitation calls for industry participation, the labs are anxious to find partners to work with.

Ceramatech and B&W have reportedly started a venture together called SOFCo. B&W appears to be making a major commitment to fuel cells, seeking to become a premier provider of both SO and PEM. (DU, Distributed Utility)