Max Planck Innovation GmbH, the technology transfer agency of the Max Planck Society, Germany’s leading basic research organization, has signed an exclusive license agreement with FuMA-Tech GmbH for a patent covering a novel material for fuel cell membranes, its synthesis and use.
The novel material, sulfonated poly(arylene) bears the potential to overcome some of the limitations of existing fuel cell membranes as it exhibits unprecedented hydrolytic and thermo-oxidative stability, very high conductivity also at low humidification levels and very low methanol uptake.
“We will use the material for the development of novel membranes for direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) and intermediate temperature hydrogen fuel cells as it provides for better efficiency and more chemical stability than existing polymers,” said Dr Bernd Bauer, Managing Director of FuMA-Tech. “However we may also explore applications in batteries, electrolysis, electrodialysis, water preparation and others.”
Fuel cells developed for portable and transport applications are so-called proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. They consist of an anode and a cathode, which are separated by a polymer electrolyte membrane in the form of a thin, permeable sheet. This membrane allows only positively charged ions to pass through it to the cathode while the negatively charged electrons travel along an external circuit, thereby generating an electrical current. The membrane needs to exhibit very high proton conductivity and it has to be impermeable for gas and also has to endure harsh conditions, e.g. high temperatures, the appearance of highly reactive oxidizing radicals and the reducing environment at the anode.
While available membranes meet some of these criteria, they still have disadvantages, such as low conductivity and poor chemical stability at temperatures above 80°C (175°F). Additional problems arise from the switching of PEM manufacturers from hydrogen-based to methanol-based fuel cells.
Methanol is more readily available and safer than hydrogen and also offers greater energy density. However, existing membranes exhibit the so-called methanol crossover, an effect caused by methanol transport from the anode to the cathode through the membrane. This effect drastically reduces a cell’s efficiency and so far has prevented a breakthrough for direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs).
The membrane invented by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart is based on sulfonated poly(arylene) ionomers that have low swelling properties and demonstrate a high methanol rejection. As a result, the new polymer bars methanol from travelling through the membrane while maintaining high proton conductivity as a result of the very high ion exchange capacity. In addition, it also exhibits superior thermal, thermo-oxidative and hydrolytic stability.
“Fuel cells are a technology with a huge potential,” said Joern Erselius, Managing Director of Max Planck Innovation, “but they still need better efficiency. We are very happy that we were able to license this promising technology to a company that already has more than 12 years of experience in this field and that has demonstrated enormous and successful development efforts.” He added, the know-how transfer will also be facilitated by a chemist switching from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research to FuMA-Tech GmbH.
About Max Planck Innovation
Max Planck Innovation advises and supports scientists of the Max Planck Society in evaluating inventions and filing patent applications. Max Planck Innovation markets patents and technologies to industry and coaches founders of new companies based on research results from Max Planck Institutes.
Every year, Max Planck Innovation evaluates about 130 inventions, of which about 80 lead to the filing of a patent application. In the last five years alone, Max Planck Innovation advised 28 spin-offs, closed more than 450 license deals and generated proceeds of more than 100 million Euros for inventors, institutes and the Max Planck Society. As a result, Max Planck Innovation is among the world's most successful technology transfer organizations.
Max Planck Innovation was founded in 1970 as Garching Instrumente GmbH and operated under the name of Garching Innovation from 1993 to 2006.
About FuMa-Tech GmbH
FuMa-Tech, based in St. Ingbert and Vaihingen an der Enz in Germany, is a leading manufacturer of ion exchange membranes. The Company has comprehensive skills ranging from the synthesis of raw and auxiliary materials to the conversion of these materials to membranes and finally to their application in industrial membrane separation plants. The Company is specialized in fuel cell technology and membrane separation technology, particularly for the treatment of aqueous solutions.
FuMA-Tech was founded in 1994 and is member of the BWT group of companies since 1997. The Best Water Technology Group was formed in 1990 from a management buy-out and is today Europe’s leading water technology company. The goal of about 2,200 employees in 65 subsidiaries and associates is to provide private, industrial and municipality customers with innovative technologies in water treatment.
Dr. Jörn Erselius
Max Planck Innovation GmbH
Phone: + 49 89 29 09 19-0
Dr. Bernd Ctortecka
Patent and Licensing Manager
Max Planck Innovation GmbH
Phone: + 49 89 29 09 19-0
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