renewable energy powered vehicles

Key Challenges within the Hydrogen Industry

Q&A with Ian Hutcheson, Director of Global Business Development - Saint-Gobain Composite Solutions 

What are the Biggest Challenges to Hydrogen Fuel Cell and Electrolyser Development over the Coming Years and Decades?  

The big challenges for the cost-effective development of hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers lie in overall reliability and durability. When I speak about durability, I speak about the performance of the products and developing the technology, so it proves reliable and cost-effective in operation. Regarding reliability, it's about scaling up the industry, getting the supply chains in place to meet the current demand, but also continuously improving, customizing, and optimizing our solutions and products to ensure this is a profitable, sustainable industry in the long term."  

There is also the customization challenge. The importance of customizing and optimizing products supplied in the area of hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers is best explained when you think about the internal combustion engine. The internal combustion engine has been around for 150 years, and there has been a long and sustained effort to improve and optimize that technology. Contrast that with fuel cells, which have been around just as long but are only coming into commercial use in the last five to ten years."  

For the long-term challenge of more widespread adoption of fuel cells and electrolyzers, it’s a mix of ongoing improvement in performance and reliability and the equipment becoming more cost-effective and economically viable. For that reason, it is crucial manufacturers work with technically competent suppliers to scale their solutions. These suppliers must also be innovative and capable of supporting the manufacturers of electrolyzers and fuel cells to improve their products continuously. Given the dynamic nature of this industry's tech, that journey will continue over the next 10 to 20 years.

How do VERSIV Films meet the innovative criteria to influence fuel cell development?  

VERSIV films are used in three applications in hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers:  

  1. As a frame gasket for holding and protecting the membrane exchange assembly.  
  2. They act as an electrical insulation layer between the anode and cathode.  
  3. They are used as a processing aid, decal release liner, or carrier belt to manufacture catalyst-coated membranes.   

Are there any other reasons why VERSIV films are suited to hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers?  

The reason VERSIV films are often used in hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers is because of their unique combination of properties. They are mechanically very strong and resistant to any polymer creep. Chemically they are very inert and resistant to media like phosphoric acid or ethylene glycol, often used as a cooling agent. And thirdly, they are electrically very resistant, an excellent dielectric insulator between anodes and cathodes.   

These properties are all retained through a wide range of operating temperatures, often going up to 180 degrees, or in a diversity of environments where the actual fuel cells or hydrogen electrolyzers are located, whether in very warm or cold climates.  

What are clients and industry stakeholders saying about the state of the industry at events such as the recent Hydrogen + Fuel Cells EUROPE get-together at Hannover Messe?

The key takeaways from Hannover and similar events are, firstly, the hydrogen industry is going through a period of rapid growth and change. Secondly, there is a significant demand for reliable and collaborative suppliers with which the various companies in this space can work, grow, and scale their operations. The third consideration for me is the critical use areas seem to be in electrical production, often like how diesel generators were used before. Fourthly the growth in transport will mostly be in vehicles such as large buses, trucks, and delivery vans- on the other hand, passenger vehicles are unlikely to be a major user of this technology over the next 10 to 20 years.