PEM Researches More Efficient Fuel Cell Production Process

Mounting of a fuel cell Copyright: © PEM RWTH Aachen

In the "FCPP" project, the "Production Engineering of E-Mobility Components" (PEM) chair of RWTH Aachen University and partners from science and industry are researching cheaper production processes for fuel cells. The background to the project is that the service life combined with the comparatively high costs of fuel cells are currently hampering their market penetration. The high prices have so far been largely determined by the manufacturing costs and are due to expensive production technologies that have not been developed for mass production. The high overall costs of fuel cells are thus due on the one hand to unused economies of scale and on the other to expensive production processes.

Direct coating not yet possible

The main cost driver is the coating process of the polymer electrolyte membrane. In large-scale production, this "catalyst coated membrane" (CCM) can only be manufactured with the aid of a support material. In the underlying decal method, the catalyst required for the overall reaction of the fuel cell is first applied to a PTFE film also known as a "decal film" and then transferred to the polymer electrolyte membrane by hot pressing. Direct coating of the polymer electrolyte membrane is not possible, as it can be damaged on contact with the still-wet catalyst ink. The use of the decal film as a support material is not value-adding and causes cost, equipment as well as material expenses, which should be avoidable.

New method should require less material and time

In the "Fuel Cell Performance Production" (FCPP) research project, the decal method is to be replaced by a direct coating process in favor of more cost-effective and resource-efficient production. For manufacturing companies, the successful implementation of this project means reduced material input, less capital tied up and reduced process time. The innovation of the direct coating process lies in the coating technology itself. Instead of the decal film, the catalyst is transferred via an intermediate element coated with PTFE. From material application on the intermediate element to transfer to the membrane, the moist catalyst ink is brought to a degree of dryness that enables damage-free coating of the membrane. The second cost driver is the automated stack assembly as well as the pressing and subsequent quality assurance of the fuel cell stacks. To enable high-speed stacking processes, the project will explore the interactions between fuel cell stack design and high-speed stacking processes. Furthermore, a fully automated process for rapid characterization of the aging behavior of the produced fuel cells will be developed.

Hydrogen vehicles offer scalable range

Hydrogen as an alternative energy carrier is seen as having the potential to become a clean solution for the mobility of the future. In addition to local emission-free operation, drive concepts with fuel cell systems offer the advantage of a range that is scalable with the tank size. In addition, the time required for refueling for a range of several 100 kilometers is in the lower minute range.



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The project

  • "FCPP": Fuel Cell Performance Production

Research objectives

  • Development and prototypical construction of the necessary plant technology
  • Validation of the plant by testing individually assembled fuel cells
  • Production of small quantities of polymer electrolyte membranes, assembly into prototypical single cells, and testing for performance, efficiency, and service life
  • Interconnection of several single cells to stacks and subsequent validation

Research and project partners

PEM of RWTH Aachen University (project coordinator)
Chair of Thermodynamics of Mobile Energy Conversion Systems (tme) (RWTH Aachen University)
FEV Europe GmbH
Laufenberg GmbH
WätaS Wärmetauscher Sachsen GmbH (German)
The hydrogen and fuel cell center ZBT GmbH
OLBRICH GmbH (associated partner)


  • 10/01/2021 through 09/30/2024

Project sponsor

Projektträger Jülich (PtJ)

Funding code

  • 03EN5013A


Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK)