Major Players Exit High Temperature PEM Fuel Cell Technology

by | Sep 3, 2013

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BASF logoBASF and ClearEdge have both exited the high temperature proton exchange membrane (HT-PEM) fuel cell development market, but that does not mean the technology is declining, reports Fuel Cell Today. Instead, their exit will open up the market and enable smaller players to service it.

BASF announced that it would switch to supplying adsorbents and catalysts for the market, becoming a supplier of raw materials instead of being a service provider. ClearEdge switched its stationary fuel cell plant to phosphoric acid fuel cell technology when it acquired UTC Power.

HT-PEM fuel cell technology has made considerable progress since it emerged from the research stage in the last 10 years and its ability to better tolerate CO in hydrogen feed enables natural gas to be used instead of purified hydrogen, Fuel Cell Today reports. It also allows for simplified heat and water management and cheaper catalysts to be used. But operating at high temperature constantly also means it leads to rapid degradation and corrosion of equipment, so durability is still a big challenge.

Despite these challenges, it is being developed for different applications by Truma, Elcore, Serenergy and Advent Technologies. Advent focuses on novel membrane technology and is based in Hartford, Conn. Its CEO told Fuel Cell Today that it targets four main markets — micro-CHP (combined heat and power), portable power, power generation and hydrogen separation.

Advent uses pyridine-based technology that provides better strength and stability and it supplies India, China, Taiwan and Japan through distribution partnerships.

But the key difference between big players like BASF and Advent is in their approach — while BASF used to offer standardized dimensions for its products, Advent customizes it according to its customer’s needs. Fuel Cell Today endorses Advent’s tailored approach, arguing that only when the market becomes established should providers scale up with standardized models.

In August, the Energy Department announced a $4.5 million investment in two fuel cell projects – led by Minnesota-based 3M and the Colorado School of Mines – to lower the cost, improve the durability and increase the efficiency of next-generation fuel cell systems. The projects will focus on research and development work aimed at making cost-effective, high-performing fuel cell membranes that can operate under hotter and drier conditions.

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