ARCHIVED - Hydrogen Compression Milestone Promises Major Benefits for the Fuel Cell Industry

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September 03, 2003— Ottawa, Ontario

Late in the evening of July 29, 2003, NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI) researchers achieved a key milestone in fuel cell research, promising major benefits for the fuel cell industry. Using a prototype electrochemical hydrogen compressor, researchers compressed hydrogen to 5,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Tom Vanderhoek, Head, Mechanical Design and Manufacturing at NRC-IFCI says, "This is a special milestone because we are not aware of anyone in the world ever achieving this pressure using electrochemical compression."

Team members:   Givon Yan and Ryan Baker.
Team members: Givon Yan and Ryan Baker.

This breakthrough represents an important step in the development of a technology that is targeted to deliver hydrogen at 10,000 psi — a level that industry experts currently believe is necessary to give fuel cell cars a 'running time' between refueling that is competitive with internal combustion engine cars.

The prototype solid-state, multi-stage compressor incorporates a series of membrane-electrode-assemblies (MEAs), similar to those used in proton exchange membrane fuel cells. It operates with the application of an electrical potential across the MEA to affect the transfer of hydrogen with increasing output pressure from stage-to-stage.

This non-mechanical compressor also addresses a number of shortfalls inherent to traditional compressors. The electrochemical hydrogen compressor, for instance, has no moving parts and thereby addresses conventional issues such as wear-and-tear, noise, and energy-use intensity. The compressor is also significantly more compact, making it adaptable to a range of situations.

"The advantages of this technology become very clear when you consider a commercial enterprise such as a hydrogen fueling station where the compressor may need to run 24/7. In such demanding circumstances, a mechanical compressor would pose significant maintenance and safety challenges. Given its design and the materials used, our compressor presents a viable alternative," explains Terrance Wong, Research Officer and Project Leader at NRC-IFCI . "This technology will withstand the ongoing debate over the potential fuel for fuel cells. Whether hydrogen or a reformed traditional fuel is used, the electrochemical hydrogen compressor will play an integral role in the whole infrastructure puzzle."

Orlando Vazquez   operating the compressor
Orlando Vazquez operating the compressor

Having achieved 5,000 psi, the team is working toward delivering 10,000 psi by 2004. Wong attributes the success to the range of expertise brought to bear on the project both at NRC-IFCI and through the NRC Fuel Cell Program, the latter resulting in collaborations with peers at the NRC Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology and the NRC Industrial Materials Institute. In addition, local industry partnerships at the proof-of concept stage proved effective in reaching project milestones.

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