Closed-loop recycling of fuel cell components is moving closer to commercialization thanks to advanced techniques for recovering a high-value polymer from fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs).
Axion Consulting developed the process in the collaborative Recover R&D project with fuel cell components supplier Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells and nonwoven materials manufacturer Technical Fibre Products. The project was co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
The recycling process is being processed commercially for Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, Axion Consulting director Roger Morton says.
The resource recovery and consulting firm says the financially viable process is low hazard and extracts PFSA (perfluorosulfonic ccid), a fluorinated membrane polymer, from the MEAs of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells without incineration or the creation of hydrogen fluoride gas, a corrosive and toxic substance. This membrane acts as a proton conductor, allowing the passage of electrical current to provide power.
The current incineration route does not recover the membrane as it is burned and lost. Platinum recovery from the MEAs is also easier with no loss of yield as the process generates a metal-rich material for further refining.
Morton says the process offers three major benefits: economic recovery of valuable and critical materials; preservation of resources for reuse in new fuel cell products and elimination of the technical challenges and cost of tackling harmful emissions.
The collaboration is also evaluating a take-back system for end-of-life fuel cells such as those from forklift trucks, mobile phone masts, electric vehicles and in small portable power packs for laptops and other products.