Ionomer-Free Electrodes for Ultrahigh Power Density Fuel Cells

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OPEN 2021
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Project Term:
05/02/2022 - 05/01/2025

Critical Need:

An aggressive, high-risk new R&D program on fuel cells with high power density and efficiency is needed to reduce cost, increase U.S. competitiveness, and enable near-term commercialization for clean transportation applications. The two largest factors limiting fuel cell power density are slow oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) kinetics and slow O2 transport. These factors are directly connected to the electrode ionomer, a proton-conducting polymer that also binds the catalyst particles together.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) will develop novel electrochemical interfaces based on functionalized mixed conductors (FMCs) that produce transformative improvements in polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) technology by eliminating the ionomer from the electrode. In addition, new ORR catalysts will be developed to take advantage of the FMCs and reduce the platinum content used in fuel cells. The ORR kinetics and O2 transport benefits resulting from eliminating the ionomer, along with the new catalysts, could enable more than a 100 mV increase in PEMFC operating voltage while doubling power density. Ionomer-free electrodes will enable simplified fuel cells with higher performance, lower cost, and longer lifetimes.

Potential Impact:

The proposed technology will disrupt the ionomer-based electrode paradigm that has existed for more than 30 years, enabling ionomer-free electrodes with improved power density, efficiency, and durability.


The development of fuel cells with high power density and efficiency would increase U.S. competitiveness in clean transportation and stationary power generation.


By enabling up to 50% reduction in fuel cell stack cost and up to 2X improvement in durability, these electrodes could disrupt light-duty and heavy-duty vehicle markets and usher in a new era of zero-emission transportation technology.


Ionomer-free electrodes based on FMCs and ultra-high activity catalysts provide a critical pathway to commercialization of fuel cells in clean energy applications.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Halle Cheeseman
Project Contact:
Prof. Shawn Litster
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


General Motors
University of California - Irvine
Los Alamos National Laboratory

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