With significant quantities of fuel cells expected to reach the end of their lives in 10-15 years’ time, the ability to recover their valuable resources – including precious metals – will be crucial.
One process is being developed by recovery specialist, Axion Consulting, together with fuel cell components supplier Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells (JMFC) and nonwoven materials manufacturer Technical Fibre Products (TFP).
The project involves Axion Consulting leading on the development of the upstream component separation and recovery routes.
TFP will lead on the recycling and re-use of the carbon fibres and JMFC leading on the re-use of materials in fuel cells and the final recovery and recycling of the precious metals.
The process extracts PFSA (Perfluorosulfonic Acid), a fluorinated membrane polymer, from the MEAs of Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells without incineration or the creation of hydrogen fluoride gas. This membrane acts as a proton conductor, allowing the passage of electrical current to provide power.
Platinum recovery from the MEAs is also easier with no loss of yield as the process generates a metal-rich material for further refining, according to Axion Consulting.
Roger Morton, consulting director of Axion, said: “This closed-loop recycling route will be essential when fuel cells become the power packs of the future for vehicles in both remote and domestic locations. The hydrogen economy will continue to develop and grow; it is the future.”
Evaluation is also underway on developing 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.