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An operationally flexible fuel cell based on quaternary ammonium-biphosphate ion pairs


Fuel cells are promising devices for clean power generation in a variety of economically and environmentally significant applications. Low-temperature proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells utilizing Nafion require a high level of hydration, which limits the operating temperature to less than 100 C. In contrast, high-temperature PEM fuel cells utilizing phosphoric acid-doped polybenzimidazole can operate effectively up to 180 C; however, these devices degrade when exposed to water below 140 C. Here we present a different class of PEM fuel cells based on quaternary ammonium-biphosphate ion pairs that can operate under conditions unattainable with existing fuel cell technologies. These fuel cells exhibit stable performance at 80–160 C with a conductivity decay rate more than three orders of magnitude lower than that of a commercial high-temperature PEM fuel cell. By increasing the operational flexibility, this class of fuel cell can simplify the requirements for heat and water management, and potentially reduce the costs associated with the existing fully functional fuel cell systems.

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Figure 1: Operating temperature of PEM fuel cells and PEM interactions.
Figure 2: PA retention PEMs.
Figure 3: Proton conductivity of PEMs.
Figure 4: Fuel cell performance and durability.


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This work was supported by the US Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Fuel Cell Technology Office. We thank E. S. De Castro for useful discussion and for supplying PBI samples. We also thank C. Kreller for helping with the polymer thermal analysis. Y.-K.C. acknowledges financial support from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan through the Japan-US Cooperation on Clean Energy Technology Program. Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC under Contract DE-AC52-06NA25396. Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Company, for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000.

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Y.S.K. developed the intellectual concept, designed all the experiments, and supervised this research. K.-S.L. performed the MEA fabrication and testing experiments of fuel cells. Y.-K.C. performed the modelling work. C.F. and K.-S.L. prepared the polymeric materials. K.-S.L., J.S.S. and Y.S.K. analysed all experimental data and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Yu Seung Kim.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–11, Supplementary Table 1 (PDF 1296 kb)

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Lee, KS., Spendelow, J., Choe, YK. et al. An operationally flexible fuel cell based on quaternary ammonium-biphosphate ion pairs. Nat Energy 1, 16120 (2016).

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