SwRI Opens Fuel Cell Components Pilot Plant

September 25, 2002 by Jeff Shepard

The Southwest Research Institute™ (SwRI®, San Antonio, TX) has opened a pilot plant for the high-volume production of fuel cell electrodes, key components of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) and fuel cell systems. The plant was built as part of a $12.0 million contract, funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE, Washington, DC), with cost share provided by SwRI, W.L. Gore and Associates (Elkton, MD) and General Motors Corp. (GM, Detroit, MI).

"Producing low-cost MEAs is a challenge because the catalyst on the electrode is platinum, which typically costs $600 an ounce," said James Arps, manager of SwRI's Surface Engineering Section and project manager of the DOE effort. "We've designed a facility that allows us to deposit a very thin layer of platinum on the electrode, which should meet or exceed the DOE cost target."

Experiments are under way at the plant to assess the uniformity of the deposition process and scrap rate. The fuel stacks will be constructed by GM and provided to DOE's Argonne National Laboratory for evaluation upon completion of the project. The pilot plant will remain available for continued production demonstrations.