A Novel PEMEC with 3D Printed Non-Conductive Bipolar Plate for Low-Cost Hydrogen Production from Water Electrolysis

Gaoqiang Yang, Shule Yu, Zhenye Kang, Yeshi Dohrmann, Guido Bender, Bryan S. Pivovar, Johney B. Green, Scott T. Retterer, David A. Cullen, Feng Yuan Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus Citations


For establishing the large-scale hydrogen production as energy carrier from water electrolysis, improving cost-effectiveness and efficiency remains the main challenges. In this study, we propose a novel proton exchange membrane electrolyzer cell (PEMEC), consisting of non-conductive bipolar plates (BPs) and thin film liquid/gas diffusion layers (TF-LGDLs) to reduce the cost and improve the PEMEC performance. The 3D printed non-conductive BP is manufactured with low-cost polylactic acid (PLA) and is mainly functioned to distribute the water and gas products. A titanium thin film LGDL (TF-LGDL) with surroundings is developed for directly transporting electrons from the external power sources, which changes the electron transport path in the PEMECs. The PLA BP exhibits an extremely low cost (1/10 of that of the graphite BP), and the hydrogen production rate per unit BP cost in a PEMEC with PLA BP, is almost 6 times higher than a conventional one with graphite BPs. More importantly, the PEMECs with PLA BPs can achieve a good electrochemical performance of 2.21 V at 1 A/cm2under room temperature. A model is also developed to investigate the impact of the BP resistivity of on the cell performance, and a guideline for the selection guideline of conductivity of BPs material is provided. The easily accessible and low-cost PLA BPs coupled with the new electron-conducting path will drive the exploration of plastic materials for economic and efficient water splitting or other energy conversion devices, including fuel cells, batteries, and solar cells.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)108-116
Number of pages9
JournalEnergy Conversion and Management
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5900-73117


  • 3D printing
  • Electrical conductivity
  • Hydrogen
  • Low cost
  • Plastic bipolar plate
  • Water electrolysis


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