Fuel cells have the potential to replace the internal combustion engine in vehicles and to provide power in stationary and portable power applications because they are energy-efficient, clean, and fuel-flexible. For transportation applications, DOE is focusing on direct hydrogen fuel cells, in which on-board storage of hydrogen is supplied by a hydrogen generation, delivery, and fueling infrastructure. For distributed generation fuel cell applications, the program focuses on near-term fuel cell systems running on natural gas or liquid petroleum gas and recognizes the longer term potential for systems running on renewable/alternate fuels. In addition to the transportation fuel cell application focus (i.e. direct hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) to reduce our nation's dependence on imported petroleum, the program also supports stationary, portable power and auxiliary power applications in a limited fashion where earlier market entry would assist in the development of a fuel cell manufacturing base.
This DOE Hydrogen Program activity is focused on the conversion of hydrogen to electrical or thermal power and the use of hydrogen to power vehicles via polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, for auxiliary power units on vehicles, or for stationary applications. Phosphoric acid and solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) R&D is also underway within DOE, although not directly under the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative since these technologies have a stronger tie to stationary usage than transportation.
PEM Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cells
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is working to lower the cost and improve the durability of PEM fuel cells. Current R&D activities focus on improving electrocatalysts, membranes (both for ambient and high-temperature applications), and bipolar plate materials.
In the Office of Science's basic research program, the emphasis will be on defining the knowledge that enables new and novel materials to transcend the barriers for low-cost and high efficiency energy conversion applications. New and improved materials need to be developed for electrodes, electrolytes, membranes, and catalysts to enable innovative fuel cell components and operating concepts.