A game changer in water electrolysis technology

image: Block diagram of AEMWE, where the catalyst layer consists of ionomers and catalysts
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Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)

In recent times, hydrogen has attracted attention as a potential clean energy resource as an alternative to fossil fuels. In particular, there has been active research and development of water electrolysis technology which extracts hydrogen from water to produce green energy and avoids the emission of greenhouse gases. . Proton exchange membrane water electrolyser (PEMWE) technology, which is currently present in a handful of advanced countries, contains basic material technology and uses expensive noble metal catalysts and perfluorocarbon-based protons. Such technology leads to high system manufacturing costs. To address these limitations of conventional technology, a research team in Korea recently developed a core technology for the next-generation water electrolysis system that has significantly improved durability and performance while significantly reducing the cost of producing green hydrogen.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, President Yoon, Seok-Jin) announced the project as part of joint research between Dr. So Young Lee’s research team at the Hydrogen Research Center and fuel cells and under the guidance of Professor Young Moo Lee of the Department of Power Engineering, Hanyang University, a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) for anion exchange membrane water electrolyzers (AEMWE) has been developed and should replace the existing expensive PEMWE technology.

AEMWE, which uses an anion exchange membrane and electrode binder, does not rely on expensive platinum group metal electrodes and replaces the water electrolysis cell separator plate material with iron instead of titanium. When comparing the price of the catalyst and the separator material alone, the manufacturing cost is reduced by about 3,000 times that of the existing PEMWE. However, it was not used commercially due to its poor performance compared to PEMWEs and durability issues of less than 100 h of sustained operation.

The research team developed poly(fluorenyl-co-aryl piperidinium) (PFAP) based anion exchange materials (electrolyte membrane and electrode binder) with high ionic conductivity and durability under alkaline conditions in increasing the specific surface in the structure and based on this technology, a membrane electrode assembly was developed. The material developed showed excellent durability of more than 1000 hours of operation and achieved a new record cell performance of 7.68 A/cm2. This is about six times the performance of existing anion exchange materials and about 1.2 times that of expensive commercial PEMWE technology (6 A/cm2).

The technology has overcome the performance and durability issues of the base materials reported as limitations of AEMWE technology to date and has raised the quality of the technology to such a level that it allows the replacement of PEMWE technology. In addition to the excellent performance and durability, the commercialization of the developed anion exchange membrane materials is on track with the incorporation of large capacity and large area applications.

Dr. So Young Lee from KIST commented, “Our team has developed a high-efficiency material and technology that goes beyond the limitations of existing water electrolysis technology. This technology is expected to lay the foundation for the introduction of next-generation water electrolysis technology. which allows a significant reduction in the costs associated with the production of green hydrogen.” Professor Young Moo Lee of Hanyang University commented: “The developed material has a strong potential for application as a feedstock not only for water electrolysis, but also for hydrogen fuel cells, the use of carbon capture and direct ammonia fuel cells, which are the next step in the hydrogen industry from generation.

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Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), founded as the first government-funded multidisciplinary research institute in Korea, established a national development strategy based on science and technology and disseminated various core industrial technologies. Now, half a century later, KIST is raising Korea’s status in science and technology through cutting-edge fundamental technology R&D. Looking to the future, KIST will continue to strive to be a leading research institute, pursuing a better future for mankind.

This research was supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT (Minister Lim Hyesook) and was conducted under the Institutional Research Program of KIST and the Hardware Component Technology Development Project of the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technology. The research was published in the recent issue of “Energy and Environmental Sciences” (IF: 38.532, JCR greater than 0.182%).


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