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Ballard, Nisshinbo develop NPMC fuel cell

Ballard FCgen®-1040 prototype fuel cell stack, with Non Precious Metal Catalyst (NPMC) (CNW Group/Ballard Power Systems Inc.)

An 80% reduction in platinum use could help lower the cost of future fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells offer a wealth of opportunity for low-carbon transport and energy storage, but they are also expensive, in part because of the precious metals used to make them. The race is therefore on to reduce or replace rarer materials to help commercialise more affordable and better-performing systems.

One effort has been made by Canada’s Ballard Power and Japan’s Nisshinbo Holdings, a collaboration which has resulted in the creation of a new type of Non Precious Metal Catalyst (NPMC). This has now been used in what the par say is the world’s first commercialised NPMC-based proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell.

The NMPC has been incorporated into a system based on Ballard’s FCgen micro-fuel stack, which uses air-cooled technology designed for use in ultra-lightweight applications.

The new 30-watt FCgen®-1040 fuel cell stack incorporating the NPMC will be on the market by late-2017, the company said.

“We are delighted that this collaboration with Nisshinbo has enabled the development of an innovative breakthrough technology to reduce the amount of platinum in an air-cooled fuel cell stack by more than 80%,” said Dr. Kevin Colbow, Ballard’s Vice President – Technology and Product Development. “The NPMC-based FCgen®-1040 stack represents a step-change in PEM fuel cell technology with high performance at a reduced cost. Since platinum contributes 10-to-15% of the cost of a fuel cell stack today, we are very excited about the potential cost savings NPMC technology can enable moving forward.”

The effort behind the innovation is detailed in a joint paper by Ballard and Nisshinbo entitled “Non-Precious Metal Catalysts: Cathode Catalyst Layer Design Considerations for High Performance and Stability” presented at the SSI-21 Conference in June 2017.

Japan and its automakers have thrown much of their weight behind hydrogen technologies, with a view to developing the so-called hydrogen economy. The move contrasts with the efforts of Chinese, US and European automakers which have tended to focus on batteries, although hydrogen still remains an ideal choice for heavy-duty vehicles.

Indeed, as Colobow continued: “The work done to date represents an important part of our Japan strategy where we are focused on breakthrough technology development with select Japanese partners as well as penetration into the Japanese hydrogen economy with strategic channel partners in key applications.”

While it’s unlikely that a 30W fuel cell will carry an FCEV very far at all, the hope is that further development of NPMCs could help lower the cost of the technology – still a major barrier to the FCEV market.


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