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Fuel cells: an effective energy source for transportation

Fuel Cell (Transport)

Published on 7 May 2019

Liten has been developing low-temperature fuel cells for transportation since the early 1990s. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) are currently the most promising solution, offering several advantages. PEMFCs are clean, greenhouse-gas-emission free, can be installed right on board a vehicle and offer excellent yields, at around 50%. And, because PEMFCs offer high specific energy, they could help give electric vehicles ranges similar to those of combustion-engine-powered cars. Fuel cells also present the advantage of being relatively fast and easy to charge and do not require a major shift from existing driver habits. Drivers simply go to a hydrogen filling station, where it takes just three minutes to fill a 700 bar tank. Given the benefits, it is no wonder that car manufacturers around the globe are keeping a close eye on fuel-cell technology. Toyota introduced its Mirai in 2014–2015, and some 600 of the fuel-cell-powered sedans have been manufactured to date. 

Liten is the only research institute to cover the entire fuel-cell value chain, from materials to demonstrator system design to manufacturing processes. In recent years our research has turned to overall system performance, specific energy, energy density, and, especially, the electrochemical performance of the membrane-electrode assembly (MEA). 

Our researchers use multi-scale modelling and a wide range of characterization techniques. Some are specific to fuel-cell research. These include test benches for new materials, power battery testing, and demonstrator fuel-cell testing in actual operating conditions. Other resources, like the nanocharacterization platform and large scientific instruments, are common to other CEA research programs. We also benefit from the CEA fuel-cell platform, a pilot fuel-cell-core manufacturing facility with a capacity of up to several hundred MEAs that can be used to investigate and improve manufacturing processes, scale-up, and reproducibility. Finally, we are monitoring several fuel-cell systems in actual use (either in real-world conditions or in controlled environments), gaining insights that will lead to better system architectures and innovative new operating strategies.

Our efforts to enhance fuel-cell performance are rounded out by research to reduce fuel-cell system costs, another key factor in current fuel-cell development work. Specifically, our researchers are looking at how to reduce the amount of precious metals required to make fuel cells and how to increase fuel-cell lifespans, with the target of moving from the current state of the art of 2,500 hours to 6,000 hours. These advances will help fuel widespread adoption, especially in the field of electric vehicles.


An effective solution for electric vehicles

  • Increased EV range, a crucial factor for both car manufacturers and drivers

  • Fast charging

  • A clean system with energy conversion yields of around 60%


​Liten worked with car manufacturer PSA from 2003 to 2010 to develop the Genepac® fuel cell; PSA has since discontinued this business line. 

​Liten is a partner of the HyWay project. This eighteen-month project kicked off in October 2014 and is backed by the Rhône-Alpes regional government, the Rhône-Alpes sustainable development agency, and the French energy agency ADEME. This unique project entails rolling out an actual fleet of hybrid (battery/hydrogen) Renault Kangoo ZE utility vehicles equipped with Symbio FCell’s fuel-cell range extender, which leverages a technology developed at the CEA. A network of hydrogen filling stations is also being built in and around Lyon and Grenoble. The ultimate goal is to roll out a fleet of 50 of the vehicles.

Liten is also expanding its partnerships with other transportation-industry stakeholders. In 2010, under the Zero CO2 project, the institute equipped a 12-meter RM Yachts sailing vessel with an electric motor powered by a CEA fuel cell and batteries. We are also working with the aerospace industry to demonstrate fuel-cell compatibility with other environmental constraints.

We are involved in a number of EU research projects, including: 

  • Hycarus: design of a fuel-cell system and testing in aerospace-industry conditions  

  • Auto-StackCore: design of a European power battery compatible with automotive-industry requirements

  • Smartcat: development of new catalysts using materials other than platinum to reduce costs

  • Chameau: management of the water created in PEMFCs

  • 30 researchers

  • More than 100 patents

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