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Fuel Cells: Proton Exchange Membranes

  1. Ram Devanathan

Published Online: 18 JAN 2011

DOI: 10.1002/0470862106.ia803

Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry

How to Cite

Devanathan, R. 2011. Fuel Cells: Proton Exchange Membranes. Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 18 JAN 2011


Proton exchange membrane, also known as polymer electrolyte membrane, fuel cells (PEMFCs) offer the promise of efficient conversion of chemical energy of fuel, such as hydrogen or methanol, into electricity with minimal pollution. Their widespread use to power zero-emission automobiles as part of a hydrogen economy can contribute to enhanced energy security and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, the commercial viability of PEMFC technology is hindered by high cost associated with the membrane-electrode assembly (MEA) and poor membrane durability under prolonged operation at elevated temperature. Membranes for automotive fuel cell applications need to perform well over a period comparable to the life of an automotive engine and under heavy load cycling including start-stop cycling under subfreezing conditions. The combination of elevated temperature, changes in humidity levels, physical stresses, and harsh chemical environment contribute to membrane degradation. Perfluorinated sulfonic acid (PFSA)-based membranes, such as Nafion®, have been the mainstay of PEMFC technology. Their limitations, in terms of cost and poor conductivity at low hydration, have led to continuing research into membranes that have good proton conductivity at elevated temperatures above 120 °C and under low-humidity conditions. Such membranes have the potential to avoid catalyst poisoning, simplify fuel cell design, and reduce the cost of fuel cells. Hydrocarbon-based membranes are being developed as alternatives to PFSA membranes, but concerns about chemical and mechanical stability and durability remain. Novel anhydrous membranes based on polymer gels infused with protic ionic liquids have also been recently proposed, but considerable fundamental research is needed to understand proton transport in novel membranes and evaluate durability under fuel cell operating conditions. In order to advance this promising technology, it is essential to rationally design the next generation of PEMs on the basis of an understanding of chemistry, membrane morphology, and proton transport obtained from experiment, theory, and computer simulation.


  • fuel cells;
  • proton exchange membrane;
  • polymer membrane;
  • ionic liquid;
  • energy efficiency;
  • energy conversion;
  • hydrogen economy;
  • pollution prevention;
  • proton transport