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Project delves into greener fuel cell material


Kingston and Oshawa, ON – A researcher’s discovery of an inexpensive new material for potential use in hydrogen fuel cells at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), has been awarded $18,000 in additional development funding by GreenCentre Canada.

The material, discovered by Dr Brad Easton, assistant professor of Chemistry in UOIT’s Faculty of Science, shows promise as a more cost-effective and greener alternative to the materials currently used in a fuel cell’s Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM). This membrane is a crucial component in the fuel cell’s power system.

As a potential power source for electric motors, fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. Fuel cells are seen as a cleaner alternative to the internal combustion engine.

Dr Easton’s technology has the advantage over existing membrane materials of being inexpensive to produce and of being able to function at a temperature range of 120-150ºC, the US Department of Energy’s target benchmark for the next generation of fuel cells. Current membrane materials are extremely costly to manufacture and only operate efficiently at temperatures under 80ºC.

“Membrane properties and their production cost are critical barriers to widespread adoption of fuel cell technology,” says Dr Michael Szarka, director, Commercial Development at GreenCentre Canada. “The superior characteristics suggested by Dr Easton’s work make his technology potentially very interesting to the fuel cell and automotive sectors.”

GreenCentre Canada is a national Centre of Excellence for commercializing early-stage Green Chemistry discoveries generated by academic researchers and industry, and is funded by the governments of Ontario and Canada, and industry.

To date, the organization says it has awarded more than $180,000 in similar funding to seven researchers at six universities across the country. Funded projects include energy-efficient compounds for removing CO2 from industrial gas emissions, the development of organic superconducting polymers and a green method for removing harmful metals from industrial wastewater.

It also says it expects to award up to 25 funding grants annually in support of technologies that have strong commercialization potential but require further basic research or testing before they can be reassessed for market value.