Electrolyzer and Fuel Cell Recycling for a Circular Hydrogen Economy: Article No. 2300449

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Electrolyzers and fuel cells will be crucial for achieving global clean hydrogen and industrial decarbonization goals. However, the nascent clean hydrogen sector faces uncertainties around material supply chains and technology end-of-life management. This work aims to guide the transition to a circular hydrogen economy by using process modeling, techno-economic analysis, and life cycle assessment to evaluate the material cost, energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, toxicity, and water use of five potential recycling strategies for proton exchange membrane electrolyzers (PEMWE) and fuel cells (PEMFC). Hydrometallurgy, acid dissolution, and electrochemical dissolution are shown to offer 2-7 times improvement across all assessed metrics relative to the manufacturing of PEMWE and PEMFC from raw materials. Recycling can also lower the raw material demand, material cost, energy use, and GHG emissions associated with PEMWE and PEMFC deployment in the United States in 2050 by 23%, 19%, 21%, and 16%, respectively. This study provides key insights into the costs, benefits, and complexities of recycling strategies for PEMWE and PEMFC, aiding the development of a circular economy that is synergistic with clean hydrogen deployment.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalAdvanced Sustainable Systems
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-87146


  • electrolyzer
  • fuel cell
  • life cycle assessment
  • recycling
  • techno-economic analysis


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