Turn up the heat: A brief history of high-temperature hydrogen fuel cells

December 16, 2021

In the early 1960s, a cooperative effort between the US Air Force Materials Laboratory, Dupont, and the Celanese Research Company led to a breakthrough: the synthesis and commercialisation of Polybenzimidazoles (PBIs), a class of high-performance polymers recognised for their excellent thermal and chemical stability. It was the Cold War and the US Government was eager to develop materials to aid in the “Space Race” and it found it in “m-PBI”, one of the first PBIs to be widely-investigated.

Because m-PBI is non-flammable, resistant to chemicals, physically stable at high temperatures, and can be spun into fibers, this polymer has been used in astronaut space suits, firefighter’s turnout coats and suits, and high-temperature protective gloves. PBI continues to be used in multiple applications including matrix resins, high strength adhesives, thermal and electrical insulating foams, and thermally-resistant fibers. And, as you might expect, PBI features prominently in hydrogen fuel cell membranes.

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