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Polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysis: status of technologies and potential applications in combination with renewable power sources

Abstract

Technological improvements in polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysers (PEMWEs) are promoted by their exciting possibilities to operate with renewable power sources. In this paper, a synopsis of the research efforts concerning with the development of electrocatalysts, polymer electrolytes and stack hardware components is presented. The most challenging problem for the development of PEMWEs is the enhancement of oxygen evolution reaction rate. At present, there are no practical alternatives to noble metal-based oxide catalysts such as IrO2 and RuO2. As well as carbon supported Pt nanoparticles are the benchmark cathode catalysts for hydrogen evolution. High noble metal loading on the electrodes and the use of perfluorosulfonic membranes significantly contribute to the cost of these devices. Critical areas include the design of appropriate mixed electrocatalysts and their dispersion on low cost Ti-oxide like supports to increase catalyst utilization. Moreover, the development of alternative membranes with enhanced mechanical properties for high pressure applications, proper conductivity and reduced gas cross-over is strongly required. This latter aspect is also addressed by the development of proper recombination catalysts. The development of anodic mixed non-noble transition metal oxides with spinel or perovskite structure and proper resistance to chemical degradation in the acidic environment and electrochemical corrosion is also an active area of research. Similarly, efforts are also being addressed to Pd and Ru based cathode formulations with cheaper characteristics than Pt. Whereas, concerning with stack hardware, cost reduction may be addressed by replacing Ti-based diffusion media and bipolar plates with appropriate and cost-effective stainless steel materials with enhanced resilience to chemical and electrochemical corrosion. Regarding the combination with renewable power sources, PEM electrolysers can find suitable applications for peak shaving in integrated systems grid connected or in grid independent operating conditions where hydrogen generated through electrolysis is stored and then via fuel cell converted back to electricity when needed or used to refill fuel cell-based cars. Hydrogen is the most promising clean energy carrier to accomplish the sustainable production of energy and a synergy among hydrogen, electricity and renewable energy sources is highly desired.

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Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the financial support of the EU through the FCH JU Electrohypem Project. “The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2010-2013) for the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative under grant agreement Electrohypem n° 300081.”

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Correspondence to A. S. Aricò.

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Aricò, A.S., Siracusano, S., Briguglio, N. et al. Polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysis: status of technologies and potential applications in combination with renewable power sources. J Appl Electrochem 43, 107–118 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10800-012-0490-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10800-012-0490-5

Keywords

  • Water electrolysis
  • Polymer electrolyte membrane
  • Oxygen evolution
  • Hydrogen evolution
  • Electrocatalysts
  • Renewable energy sources