Polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysis (PEL) facilitates compact hydrogen production, and combined with suitable storage systems, it represents a key technology that will help us realize an environmentally friendly, reliable, and affordable future energy supply. In contrast to alkaline water electrolysis, which uses potassium hydroxide solution as an electrolyte, PEM electrolysis uses proton-conducting membranes as an electrolyte. PEM electrolyzers have a simpler system configuration than alkaline electrolyzers and they produce hydrogen with much higher current densities and efficiencies.
In order to make PEM electrolysis widely and sustainably available on the mass market for the storage of renewable energy from 2020 onwards, further steps must be taken to improve insufficient stability and to cut the high costs associated with the technology as it currently stands.
Activities on MEA development in cooperation with project partners from research and industry therefore concentrate on reducing or completely replacing platinum group metals conventionally used for catalytic reactions in membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) while retaining comparable performance. New types of membrane are also being developed as replacements for the extruded Nafion membranes (175 µm–200 µm thick) currently used. The latter do not exhibit sufficient stability in the planned large-scale systems.
Another field of activity is the development of low-cost materials and manufacturing processes for metallic bipolar plates. Development work aims to considerably cut the costs of flow fields and separator plates, and thus dramatically reduce their contribution to the total costs. Investigating the interaction between necessary system components and the development of optimized control strategies rounds off the activities in this area.