Membraneless direct liquid fuel cell


The National Research Council, in cooperation with the University of British Columbia, has developed a fuel cell architecture that operates without a polymer electrolyte membrane and is compatible with a variety of liquid fuels (e.g. methanol).

Conventional membranes and liquid fuel cell designs present limitations to fuel cell performance such as fuel cross-over, degradation or contamination of the membrane, ohmic losses and reduced active triple-phase boundary sites for catalyst located away from the membrane/electrode interface region. The absence of a membrane in this innovative architecture alleviates many of these issues.

The membraneless fuel cell design is contemplated for applications in the consumer electronics space and in niche military and aerospace markets. A prototype architecture has been made and tested to demonstrate performance and cost advantages over conventional fuel cell architectures.

Technology transfer

The implementation of this technology includes the membraneless fuel cell architecture together with a suitable dynamic power control method, as available with reference to NRC ID: 12170. Apart from general consumer applications, this integrated technology offers opportunities for the military and aerospace sectors, such as the possibility to design highly-portable, stand-alone power systems.

Market applications

This opportunity is well-suited for an array of liquid fuel cell system applications and niche applications requiring individually-portable power systems.

How it works

As industry continues to invest in the development of fuel cell technology for an array of applications, the National Research Council in cooperation with the University of British Columbia continues to contribute to this field with the development of a membraneless fuel cell architecture. The prototype that has been developed operates without a polymer electrolyte membrane and is compatible with a variety of liquid fuels (e.g. methanol).

The prototype architecture has been shown to provide comparable performance to a conventional ambient air breathing methanol fuel cell. Other exemplary prototype systems have been demonstrated to be compatible with ethanol and formic acid liquid fuels and the technology is scalable with a conventional bipolar fuel cell configuration.

The simplified design offers performance and cost advantages over available fuel cell architectures, particularly for the design of smaller and lighter fuel systems which are portable and applicable in the consumer electronics market, as well as in niche military and aerospace markets.

The flexible architecture can be used with different liquid fuels, electrolytes and oxidants and there are lower material costs by eliminating PEM membranes. Moreover, the resulting fuel cells can be made smaller and lighter without comprising performance. This is in part due to the 3D anode structure with an electrolyte fuel, resulting in more catalyst being used which enables higher power densities. The extension of the anode reaction zone and the integrated power control enables optimized operation at different power levels to also support the manufacture of portable systems.

Patent granted in the US and patents pending in Canada and Europe


  • Increased fuel utilization
  • Reduced fuel cross-over
  • Use of higher fuel concentrations
  • Flexibility for numerous liquid fuels
  • Elimination of performance reducing effects of membranes such as ohmic losses, environmental sensitivity and limited catalytic sites
  • Compatible with conventional bipolar fuel cell configurations
  • Reduced component costs (on average about 30%) due to elimination of polymer membrane


  • NRC file 11742: Patent granted in the United States. Patent pending in Canada and Europe.


To inquire about this technology, please contact:

Dann Chow, Portfolio Business Advisor
Telephone: 604-221-3157