Materials for PEM Fuel Cells to Exceed a Market Value of US$7 billion
Nov 02, 2022 Dr Conor O'Brien
Materials for PEM Fuel Cells to Exceed a Market Value of US$7 billion by 2033, Says IDTechEx
Despite strong incumbent materials for certain components, the technology landscape for proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells is set to change in many varied ways over the coming years. An increased materials demand in terms of both volume and units, reducing the cost of components, and the emergence of disruptive technologies are all expected, while supply chain agreements are being established and strengthened across the industry. Alongside the growth in demand, emerging trends, and player analysis, IDTechEx detail how the associated materials market for PEM fuel cells is expected to exceed a value of US$7bn by 2033.
As the trend towards zero-emission vehicles continues, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are projected to grow accordingly as a market sector. Passenger vehicles (cars) have already seen some progress in this field, with the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai NEXO well established on the market. FCEVs also present significant opportunities in the heavy-duty sector, with hydrogen-powered trucks bringing the possibility of hub-to-hub journeys without the need for a major overhaul of refueling infrastructure. With any success story for a technology comes an increased demand for the materials that form the foundation of that technology, and PEM fuel cells will follow this pattern.
IDTechEx covers the electric vehicle industry comprehensively, detailing battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and FCEVs. They have released a new report, "Materials for PEM Fuel Cells 2023-2033", which includes granular 10-year forecasts segmented by vehicle type for key fuel cell components in terms of both units and volume while also detailing the value associated with each component. Further to these granular market forecasts, the report includes player assessment, technology benchmarking, and analysis of trends for both materials and components incorporated in PEM fuel cells.
IDTechEx forecast that the materials market for PEM fuel cells will grow to exceed US$7bn by 2033. Source: IDTechEx - "Materials for PEM Fuel Cells 2023-2033"
A proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell operates via the synergistic interaction of the various components. The bipolar plate (BPP) distributes fuel among the fuel cell before the gas diffusion layer (GDL) transports reactants and products to/from the catalyst layer respectively. The catalyst is coated on the membrane (CCM), while the membrane itself transports protons from one side of the fuel cell to the other. Collectively, the PEM, CCM, and GDL are known as a membrane electrode assembly (MEA). The PEM fuel cell for transportation market is set to grow at a CAGR of 29.9% between 2022 and 2033, but there are key questions to be answered with respect to the components used in fuel cells.
BPPs are the backbone of the fuel cell, providing structural support, separating the oxygen and hydrogen gas fuels, as well as collecting the current generated in the cell. Due to the number of different roles of the BPP, the choice of material must take a number of important parameters into consideration. Mechanical strength, corrosion resistance, electrical and thermal conductivity are all of vital significance, while materials and production costs must also be accounted for. In this report, IDTechEx benchmark the two dominant material choices for BPPs, graphite, and metal, including analysis of component suppliers, their material choices, and supply chain agreements with OEMs.
The MEA is a major component for fuel cells, incorporating the proton exchange membrane, the CCM, and the GDL. The value associated with the MEA can be seen in the pie chart above, showcasing the importance of the MEA to the overall fuel cell. The GDL is arguably the most simplistic of the components listed in the chart, however, plays a major role in water management within the cell. An understanding of the major players in this market segment is given in the report, together with technological differentiators and information relating to which OEMs are being supplied. Furthermore, a discussion of material trends is made with respect to enhancing the ability of the GDL to enable water management within the cell.
The PEM allows the transport of protons from one side of the cell to the other and typically consists of a specific family of polymer known as an ionomer. The market leader is Nafion, a Chemours product, however, several other alternative ionomer materials are on the market. IDTechEx provides benchmarking of these alternative membrane materials, against the incumbent, with respect to three of the most important parameters for PEMs; electrical resistance, ion exchange capacity (IEC), and membrane thickness. High electrical resistance is required to ensure the fuel cell is not short-circuited, while high (IEC) and thin membranes enable rapid proton transport across the cell, thereby increasing cell performance. Alternative, novel materials are gaining traction as proton exchange membranes, predominantly at an academic level, such as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs).
An area of critical importance for PEM fuel cells is the incorporation of a catalytic material into the cell to enable the chemical reaction to occur effectively at sub-100°C temperatures, allowing the aqueous conditions that the PEM requires for proton transport. Typically, platinum and other platinum group metals (PGMs) are utilized as catalysts, however, the high cost of these precious metals is inhibitive to the cost reduction of the overall fuel cell stack. The report from IDTechEx details the key suppliers of PGM catalysts to OEMs and forecasts the demand for PGM materials and the value associated with integrating these metals into a CCM. A focus for R&D relating to fuel cells concerns the reduction of the cost of the catalyst, either by limiting the volume of PGM required or finding alternative catalytic materials.
For more details on the materials demand, trends and emerging novel alternatives to the incumbents for PEM fuel cell components, see the IDTechEx market report "Materials for PEM Fuel Cells 2023-2033". Sample pages can be downloaded here - www.IDTechEx.com/MPEMFC. For more information on IDTechEx's other reports and market intelligence offerings, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research.