Novel low-cost conductive coatings for PEM fuel cells

Published on Thu 14 September, 2017

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the UK’s technology innovation provider for process manufacturing, today announced that it has been collaborating with world-leading partners to develop novel, conductive coatings for proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell bipolar plates. The NovCoat consortium is applying state-of-the-art technologies to accelerate the pace of fuel cell cost reduction. Intelligent Energy is leading this project in collaboration with CPI and the advanced coatings supplier Haydale, to develop new conductive coatings containing nanocarbons to replace the more traditional physical vapour deposition (PVD) methods.

There is increasing demand for the production of PEM fuel cells since they offer the benefit of clean, high efficiency electricity generation across a broad power range. Conventional metallic PEM fuel cell bipolar plates usually require the application of an electrically conductive coating to minimise resistive losses. Such coatings are presently applied either in a batch or continuous process usually using a variety of highly technical processes including thermal spraying, CVD and, most often, PVD. These approaches incur considerable cost; through labour associated with chamber loading and unloading, the process times required to achieve high vacuum, or through the capital investment required for continuous vacuum processing.

The 12 month NovCoat project has evaluated the technical feasibility and cost-saving opportunities of using low-cost, wet-coatings applied by high-throughput, ambient processes to replace PVD methods. The project has developed advanced coatings utilising functionalised nanocarbons (graphene and/or carbon nanotubes) as the primary electrically conducting component to improve z plane conductivity in line with USDoE automotive targets. These coatings were applied using roll-to-roll techniques to pre-coat low cost stainless steel foils, and post-coat after part fabrication. The electrical and physical properties of the resultant coating have now been evaluated.

The NovCoat project has successfully demonstrated the fabrication of nanocarbon coatings on stainless steel with performance similar to PVD coatings, and the feasibility of ambient, solution based roll-to-roll processes which will help drive output levels and permit major cost reduction.

“This highly innovative project has both technical and commercial elements that are beyond state of the art. The commercial partners are exciting, high growth potential companies and have demonstrated functionalisation, dispersion, formulation and coating capabilities to deliver the project effectively”, says Dr Steve Devine, Principal Scientist - Nanomaterials & Composites at CPI.

Dr Christopher Dudfield, Chief Technology Officer at Intelligent Energy, said: “Intelligent Energy sees great potential in the application of new materials to accelerate the penetration of fuel cells into our target markets and is fully supportive of InnovateUK’s mandate to promote UK-based collaboration and innovation.”

Ray Gibbs, Haydale CEO added: “We are pleased to have been a part of this project and to have demonstrated our abilities at providing solutions and creating material change. We are now looking to take this know-how from the laboratory into commercial production.”


Notes to the Editor

About CPI

The Centre for Process Innovation is a UK-based technology innovation centre and is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. The company uses applied knowledge in science and engineering combined with state of the art development facilities to enable its clients to develop, prove, prototype and scale up the next generation of products and processes.

Established to support the UK process manufacturing industry, CPI collaborates with universities, SMEs and large corporations to help overcome innovation challenges. Operating across a broad range of technologies, partners are supported at every stage; from concept to market; business support to technology development; and from scale up to supply chain intervention.

CPI consists of dedicated national innovation centres that support industrial biotechnology and biorefining, printable electronics, biologics and formulation. The centres enable advancements in major markets such as healthcare, electronics, food and drink, aerospace, automotive, materials, and energy. These world leading, digitally enabled and open access facilities are available for partners to get their products and processes to market quickly with minimal risk. Utilising strong networks, CPI brings together a range of partners in the delivery of innovation projects, with a common goal of strengthening the UK’s position in High Value Manufacturing.

For more information, please visit: https://www.uk-cpi.com/ 

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

About Intelligent Energy

Intelligent Energy delivers clean energy solutions for the UAV, automotive and stationary power markets. We embed our fuel cell stack technology into products in co-operation with key industry partners to create solutions which extend their capabilities. We are a global business operating out of our UK base, with additional operations currently in the US, Japan, India, China and France.

Intelligent Energy Holdings plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE: IEH.L).