Umicore – Creating tomorrow’s fuel cell catalysts on an industrial scale

To Umicore, we believe fuel cell electric vehicles are part of the way forward for cleaner mobility. That’s why we’ve been hard at work developing proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell catalysts, doing our part to lead the charge. Now we want to do more: we also want to publicize their technological advantages in a series of 6 episodes on fuel cells.

In Episode 5: Creating tomorrow’s fuel cell catalysts at industrial scale

Fuel cell catalysts: a constant quest for quality

Fuel cells generate electrical energy from hydrogen using layers of catalyst on both sides of the membrane: the cathode and the anode. These catalysts are nanoparticles (often between 2 and 5 nanometers) based on platinum powder. To Umicore, we are working on continuous improvement: how to make the fuel cells of tomorrow more efficient than today with our PEM catalysts? We focus on the evolution of highly efficient, reliable and mature fuel cell technology and closely follow new innovations in the field.

It all starts with a fundamental understanding of both the science behind fuel cells and market needs. Together with our research and industrial partners, we then examine how to improve our PEM fuel cell catalysts to meet specific requirements: from withstanding extreme conditions with reasonable energy input to reducing the amount of valuable materials needed. , thereby also reducing costs.

Why nanoparticles as catalysts? Because they have a large surface area compared to the amount of material used. This results in a minimum of hardware required. The downside, however, is that the quality of conventional catalytic materials can vary greatly. Therefore, R&D at Umicore focuses primarily on solving this challenge.

Hit the right notes

How to make the fuel cells of tomorrow more (cost-)efficient? To Umicorethe answer is fivefold:

Combining diverse perspectives – None of us are as smart as all of us put together. This is why we draw on all the expertise of our ecosystem. We listen to our customers and suppliers, we keep up to date with the latest research and we collaborate with universities and knowledge institutes in open innovation projects. Finally, we have established an industry-leading R&D team to supplement external knowledge with decades of acquired experience and knowledge.

Putting the right processes in place – The creation of catalysts for fuel cells requires synthesis. The nature of the specific process is defined by many parameters, such as temperature, pressure and concentration. Needless to say, these parameters should be 100% accurate and should be carefully monitored to ensure complete stability, batch after batch. Our optimized and reproducible processes guarantee maximum control of the properties of nanomaterials.

A customer-centric mindset – With a portfolio of different catalysts and additives for PEM fuel cells, Umicore caters to many customers including OEMs and Membrane Electrode Assemblies (MEA) manufacturers. The goal, however, is always the same: to increase the performance and durability of the range – which we achieve through dedicated technologies, superior quality management and a deep understanding of the automotive industry.

Internal control – In our R&D environment – and, of course, production as well – we can control all structural parts of PEM fuel cell catalysts. We also master complex analytical methods to capture and interpret the data needed to fine-tune nanoparticles to achieve both stability and high performance. Step by step, we transform each transmission development project into a successful result that meets customer expectations.

Large-Scale Production – Many organizations are conducting exciting research on fuel cell catalysts and are able to show amazing laboratory-scale results showing the potential for further development. But the automotive industry is hungry for industrial-strength solutions and that’s where we come in. We take the necessary steps to develop proven technology. We can meet massive and lasting demands for catalysts, thanks to efficient and ethical sourcing, state-of-the-art equipment and decades of practical experience.

“PEM fuel cell catalysts are nanoparticles. Developing them on an industrial scale – in metric tons – without loss of properties is quite unique in the market.

Daniel Herein, Senior Manager Global Research & Technology at Umicore

From theory to practice: the AutoStack Industry (ASI) project

In Germany, Umicore is part of a 60 million euros government-funded research project called AutoStack Industry. Launched in 2017, the project brings together the entire German fuel cell supply chain. The objective: to develop a fuel cell suitable for mass production in the German automotive industry by bringing key technologies to industrial maturity.

In collaboration with the main equipment manufacturers (volkswagenAudi, BMWetc.), suppliers (Greenerity, Dana, etc.) and renowned research institute ZSW, Umicore is playing its part in scaling up the industry, both in terms of fuel cell design and manufacturing.


Eva Behaeghe

Senior Investor Relations Manager

Such. : +32 2 227 70 68

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