The US Department of Energy has dedicated roughly $15.8 million for 30 projects working toward the discovery and development of innovative, low-cost materials needed for hydrogen production and storage and for automotive fuel cells.

Of those 30 projects, Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Shawn Litster has been selected to receive $2 million in funding as principal investigator of his multi-institution team’s research project, “Advanced PGM-free Cathode Engineering for Higher Power Density and Durability.” Litster’s work falls into the DOE’s category of PGM-free Catalyst and Electrode R&D, which aims to develop catalysts and electrodes from materials other than platinum grade metals.

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“In our project, we are taking a comprehensive approach to dramatically reducing fuel cell costs by combining advanced high activity, stable catalysts with novel electrode designs to increase the power output and efficiency,” Litster says. “Our work will benefit from the advanced materials processing and characterization tools available to us here at CMU, including our nano-scale resolution X-ray CT system.”

Litster and his collaborators will conduct their research within the Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat), part of the DOE’s Energy Materials Network (EMN) lab consortia that supports the DOE's goal of expediting the development of advance materials. Utilizing world-class capabilities, ElectroCat works through pooled national laboratory expertise to accelerate the development and deployment of PGM-free catalysts and electrodes for use in a broad range of catalytic structures.

We are taking a comprehensive approach to dramatically reduce fuel cell costs.

Shawn Litster, Associate Professor, MechE & Director, X-ray Computed Tomography Facility, Carnegie Mellon University

Selections for funding were made within the DOE under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office annual funding announcement (FOA). This year’s FOA is further developing research on fuel cell electric vehicles using hydrogen made from different domestic resources.

“In my view, fuel cell vehicles are critical to achieving large reductions in petroleum consumption for transportation and the associated benefits to mobility and the environment with vehicle electrification,” he says. “Fuel cells are a key way to electrify larger, longer range vehicles, such as light duty trucks and buses, where the cost and weight of batteries are prohibitive.”

In addition to Litster’s work, the FOA is also funding research in categories of Advanced Water Splitting Materials, Hydrogen Storage Materials Discovery, and Precursor Development for Low-Cost, High-Strength Carbon Fiber.