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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A low temperature unitized regenerative fuel cell realizing 60% round trip efficiency and 10 000 cycles of durability for energy storage applications

  • Author(s): Regmi, YN;
  • Peng, X;
  • Fornaciari, JC;
  • Wei, M;
  • Myers, DJ;
  • Weber, AZ;
  • Danilovic, N
  • et al.

Unitized regenerative fuel cells (URFC) convert electrical energy to and from chemical bonds in hydrogen. URFCs have the potential to provide economical means for efficient long-term, seasonal, energy storage and on-demand conversion back to electrical energy. We first optimize the catalyst layer for discrete electrolyzer and fuel cell and then configure the URFC. The goal is to identify a cost competitive configuration for URFCs, and demonstrate it in terms of upper limit of round trip efficiencies (RTEs). Two possible configurations of URFCs are compared via experiments and techno-economic analysis (TEA), which emphasize the advantages of the unconventional constant-electrode (CE) URFC over the traditional constant-gas (CG) configuration. We also study the stability via accelerated stress tests (ASTs) and demonstrate steady state operation in a daily cycle for day to night energy shifting. From the investigations, the optimum composition of the URFC anode catalyst layer is 90 at% Ir-black balanced by Pt-black for both CE and CG configurations. At 80 °C and 1 A cm-2, the optimized CE URFC achieves 57% and 60% RTE with air and O2 as the reductant gases, respectively. We then evaluated the differences in durability using an AST over 10k charge-discharge cycles; the results reveal that the wider potential window at the anode in CE (0.05-1.55 V) has minimal effect on catalyst layer stability compared to CG (0.55-1.55 V). Furthermore, there was no degradation up to the range of 2k-5k cycles; beyond that the fuel cell (discharge) performance degraded while the electrolyzer (charge) performance was still stable. The observations here indicate substantial potential to employ URFCs as efficient and cost-effective bidirectional energy-conversion devices within energy storage and utilization systems after appropriate technological and operational optimizations.

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