France: Liten Fuel Cells: More Efficient Materials and Membrane-Electrode Assemblies for Better Performance

By August 7, 2019 5   min read  (923 words)

August 7, 2019 |

Liten Fuel Cells

Materials for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) for stationary and transportation applications have been a part of Liten’s fuel-cell research since the early 2000s.

Liten’s research aims to enhance the materials used and the membrane-electrode assembly (MEA) itself. We investigate designs, sizes, and methods suited to industrial-scale manufacturing and capable of achieving the levels of performance required by the target markets. Total cost of ownership also has to be competitive to position PEMFCs as an economically-viable alternative to current solutions.

One of Liten objectives is to develop highly resistant materials with very long lifespans that can withstand 6,000 hours of use in transportation or 40,000 hours of use in stationary applications with degradation rates under 10%. Another objective is to reduce the amount of platinum—a strategic, costly, and increasingly rare metal—required in PEMFCs. While reducing the use of platinum is important, Liten researchers also maintain a big-picture view of the fuel-cell market, with knowledge of everything from materials to the electrode stack, again, with the goal of reducing total system costs. We start by testing and comparing existing materials and developing our own materials for FC MEAs. This research is backed by some top-tier facilities. Liten’s nanocharacterization platforms’ high-resolution electron microscopes to look at materials at the atomic scale and its chemical species mapping capabilities to gain insights into MEA makeup; Liten’s printing equipment can handle up to 200 electrodes per hour and we also have stacking and electrochemical and stack characterization equipment. Finally, we have access to the local large scientific instruments—the ESRF synchrotron and ILL—for in operando characterization and fuel-cell water management experiments. Liten fuel-cell research leverages a vast array of scientific know-how, from chemistry, materials chemistry, printing techniques, processes, and electrochemistry to characterization and modeling.

Liten research covers:

  • Implementing materials in MEA electrodes (platinum and carbon black in the electrodes’ active layer); development of printing techniques to deposit materials on carbon paper or the membrane to obtain the best performance per surface area unit and per amount of platinum. The goal, of course, is to improve the materials-to-performance ratio, thereby reducing the surface area required, and, as a result, raw materials costs.
  • Using more suitable materials to improve performance, with a focus on materials that offer better gas dispersion and/or water management and materials that are easier to implement and/or integrate into an industrial process. Better performance and longer product lifespans result in lower costs for end users.

Liten is the only institute in France to cover the entire fuel-cell manufacturing process, from nanomaterials to stacks. We are uniquely positioned to conduct contract research on fuel-cell technologies for manufacturers in the automotive, energy, air and maritime transportation, and chemical and materials industries.


Broad, deep knowledge of materials for lower costs and higher levels of performance

  • Liton’s research aims to reduce fuel-cell costs and provide the level of performance required by the target markets
  • For end users: we can create prototypes, optimize systems from materials to demonstrators, and select and design materials to obtain the desired levels of performance and lifespans for different applications
  • For materials specialists: we leverage a deep understanding of the technology and can benchmark your and your competitors’ materials and recommend ways for you to make your materials more competitive

Liten is a partner of the HyWay project. This eighteen-month project kicked off in October 2014 and is backed by the Rhône-Alpes regional government, the Rhône-Alpes sustainable development agency, and the French energy agency ADEME. This unique project entails rolling out an actual fleet of hybrid (battery/hydrogen) Renault Kangoo ZE utility vehicles equipped with Symbio FCell’s fuel-cell range extender, which leverages a technology developed at the CEA. A network of hydrogen filling stations is also being built in and around Lyon and Grenoble. The ultimate goal is to roll out a fleet of 50 of the vehicles.

Liten is active in a number of EU research projects. Since 2008, for instance, the institute has been involved in the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, a Joint Technology Initiative to organize European hydrogen and fuel-cell research. Some 20 R&D projects were completed between 2008 and 2013, and a new wave of projects kicked off in 2014:

  • NanoCat: development of advanced catalysts for PEMFC automotive applications
  • Impala: improved PEMFC with advanced water management and gas diffusion layers for automotive applications
  • Impact: improved lifetime of automotive application fuel cells with ultra-low pt-loading
  • Eureca: efficient use of resources in energy converting applications
  • Artemis: automotive PEMFC range extender with high temperature improved MEAs and stacks
  • 20 researchers assigned to materials (synthesis, benchmarking, implementation, and electrochemical and chemical characterization) out of 60 researchers total assigned to FC for transportation research
  • 100 FC-related patents
  • Publications:
Thomas Y, Benayad A, Schroder M, Morin A, Pauchet J. July 2015. New Method for Super Hydrophobic Treatment of Gas Diffusion Layers for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells Using Electrochemical Reduction of Diazonium Salts. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 27: 15068–77.

Henry P, Guétaz L, Pélissier N, Jacques PA, Escribano S. February 1, 2015. Structural and chemical analysis by transmission electron microscopy of Pt–Ru membrane precipitates in proton exchange membrane fuel cell aged under reformate. Journal of Power Sources 275: 312–321.

Lopez-Haro M, Guétaz L, Printemps T, Morin A, Escribano S, Jouneau PH, Bayle-Guillemaud P, Chandezon F, Gebel G. October 30, 2014. Three-dimensional analysis of Nafion layers in fuel cell electrodes. Nature Communications 5: Article number 5229.

Chattot R, Escribano S. February 2015. Ageing studies of a PEM Fuel Cell stack developed for reformate fuel operation in μCHP units: Development of an accelerated degradation procedure. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 40(15): 5367–5374.


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