Hydrogen fuel cells get big boost with Canada-Germany partnership

UofA Engineering professor Marc Secanell one of the lead researchers on NSERC-funded hydrogen technologies initiative

In the race to replace gasoline-powered vehicles, could hydrogen float to the top of the pack? A funding infusion from the Governments of Canada and Germany announced Friday could support the progress needed to see this opportunity speed into reality. 

It’s an avenue that Marc Secanell has been working on for quite some time, and he’s now joining forces with German researchers Daniel Garcia-Sanchez and Thomas Jahnke of the German Aerospace Center Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics and Julian Lorenz of the DLR Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics to accelerate the process.

On June 25, 2021 their partnership was granted $50,000 through a new program between the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF), funding collaborative research projects on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. 

The Canadian Hydrogen Strategy calls for a vision of more than five million hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles by 2050. More accurately, the technology that would power these vehicles is known as proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), and their widespread use is currently limited by high production costs. This includes reliance on platinum as the standard catalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction that leads to electricity production, accounting for approximately 42% of the overall system costs.  

Secanell’s work seeks to address this problem by improving the part of the PEMFC where this central reaction takes place, the cathode catalyst layer. For his part of the project, he and his students will be assessing the feasibility of reducing the cost of cathode catalyst layers for PEMFCs by developing advanced catalyst layers with non-uniform catalyst distribution, manufactured with the inkjet printing technology at the UofA. Characterization and testing will be accomplished at DLR in Germany, and open communications and collaboration between all researchers and graduate students will be ongoing. 

At the end of the project timeline, Secanell and colleagues are planning to organise a public workshop to share the outcomes of this project with other academics, government, and industry stakeholders. 

Learn more about Secanell's work in the Energy Systems Design Laboratory