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Criticality and Life-Cycle Assessment of Materials Used in Fuel-Cell and Hydrogen Technologies


The purpose of this paper is to obtain relevant data on materials that are the most commonly used in fuel-cell and hydrogen technologies. The focus is on polymer-electrolyte-membrane fuel cells, solid-oxide fuel cells, polymer-electrolyte-membrane water electrolysers and alkaline water electrolysers. An innovative, methodological approach was developed for a preliminary material assessment of the four technologies. This methodological approach leads to a more rapid identification of the most influential or critical materials that substantially increase the environmental impact of fuel-cell and hydrogen technologies. The approach also assisted in amassing the life-cycle inventories—the emphasis here is on the solid-oxide fuel-cell technology because it is still in its early development stage and thus has a deficient materials’ database—that were used in a life-cycle assessment for an in-depth material-criticality analysis. All the listed materials—that either are or could potentially be used in these technologies—were analysed to give important information for the fuel-cell and hydrogen industries, the recycling industry, the hydrogen economy, as well as policymakers. The main conclusion from the life-cycle assessment is that the polymer-electrolyte membrane water electrolysers have the highest environmental impacts; lower impacts are seen in polymer-electrolyte-membrane fuel cells and solid-oxide fuel cells, while the lowest impacts are observed in alkaline water electrolysers. The results of the material assessment are presented together for all the considered materials, but also separately for each observed technology.

Funding source: This project has received funding from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreements No 700190 and No 101007216. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Hydrogen Europe and Hydrogen Europe research. The authors also acknowledge the financial support by the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding No. P2-0401).
Countries: Slovenia

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