Some Like It Hot: Development of Polymer Electrolyte Membranes for

May 24, 2016 - review is entitled “Approaches and Recent Development of. Polymer Electrolyte Membranes for Fuel Cells ... company, Serenergy, has be...
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Some Like It Hot: Development of Polymer Electrolyte Membranes for Use Above 100 °C New Members of the Chemistry of Materials’ 1k Club t Chemistry of Materials, we run an ongoing series of interviews with the authors of papers that have been cited 1000 times or more (members of our 1k Club). In this editorial, we interviewed the lead author of a 2003 review on high temperature polymer electrolyte membranes, which represented a critical advance for fuel cell applications.1 The review is entitled “Approaches and Recent Development of Polymer Electrolyte Membranes for Fuel Cells Operating above 100 °C”, and has been cited 1068 times (Web of Science) and 1393 times (Google Scholar).2 We (CM) asked lead author Qingfeng Li (QL) a few questions about the state of the field when he and his coauthors (Figure 1) wrote the review, and what advice he has for young people starting out on their own careers in research. CM: At what stage of your academic career were you when you submitted this review to Chemistry of Materials? Who were the other authors on the paper, and at what stages were they? Where are they now? QL: At the time when this review was submitted, we were all working in the Department of Chemistry at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). Jens Oluf Jensen and I were both associate professors, and Ronghuan He was a Ph.D. student. Niels J. Bjerrum was the full professor leading the group. We had been working for some years with fuel cells, in particular polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) at elevated temperatures. This was a field that had experienced a decisive breakthrough when phosphoric acid-doped polybenzimidazole (PBI) was proven to be viable as a fuel cell membrane at Case Western Reserve University in the mid-1990s.3 There was strong interest in increasing the working temperature since it provided high tolerance to fuel impurities and reduced the need for cooling. In 2012, our group merged into a new institute, the Department of Energy Conversion and Storage at DTU, where I (Qingfeng Li) and Jens Oluf Jensen are today full Professors. Niels J. Bjerrum is still very active in the group at age 75, but Jens Oluf Jensen has taken over the lead. Ronghuan He moved back to China where she established her own group and today she is full professor at Northeastern University, Shenyang. CM: Given the high number of citations of this review, a significant amount of research has been impacted over the years. Where did you think the field was headed when you wrote the review? In your opinion, how has this particular research field evolved ever since? QL: High temperature PEMFCs was a field that was growing quickly around the time of the review, and the years after. Thus, it happened to be very timely. Numerous polymers and composite materials had been developed and tested, and the R&D community had grown a lot, and at that time we were thrilled about all the possibilities presented by a new concept and imagined that it could be a game changer if properly developed. We initiated the very first European Community


© 2016 American Chemical Society

Figure 1. New members of the Chemistry of Materials’ 1k Club, from left to right, (top) Qingfeng Li and Ronghuan He and (bottom) Jens Oluf Jensen and Niels J. Bjerrum.

(EC) project (JOE3-CT970045) on acid-doped PBI, and the technology developed has today led to the main business case for the company Danish Power Systems that produces fuel cells. Our Greek partner then founded the fuel cell company, Advent, based upon a similar approach via a modified polymer. Later, BASF Fuel Cell became a major player in high temperature PEMFCs for a number of years. Another Danish company, Serenergy, has been very successful in manufacturing fuel cell stacks based on the technology. Several other companies around the world are trying to commercialize the technology, but as is the case with fuel cells in general, critical breakthroughs are yet to be seen. At the time of the review, we were coordinating an integrated European Union (EU) project (FURIM, ENK5-CT-2000-00323) devoted to high temperature PEMFCs. We also participated in a coordinated EU program, CARISMA, led by Deborah Jones in Montpellier. The aim was to join European forces in order to develop high temperature PEMFCs, based on several membrane types. An international conference series, the International CARISMA Conference, was Published: May 24, 2016 3235

DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b01798 Chem. Mater. 2016, 28, 3235−3236

Chemistry of Materials


initiated as a result of this effort and has been running every second year since 2008. Recently, we edited a book on the topic, which was published in 2016.4 CM: If you had to put your finger on it, what made your review special? What are you most happy about when you reread it? QL: First of all, we are of course happy that the paper has proven so useful. When our students try to step onto unknown ground, we always tell them to search for review papers - it actually is important for us, the senior members of the team, to do this as well. Reviews take a lot of work to write, but if well written, it is highly appreciated by others. What most likely made it special was the timeliness. We would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the reviewerswe received 4−5 pages of comments from two reviewers. The comments were critical but very constructive in both general and specific ways. The quality of the final version was significantly increased due to the anonymous contributions from these reviewers. CM: What’s your advice to young scientists trying to discover the next breakthrough in material science? QL: One thingwhen working in materials science, try to have an overview of the entire technological chain with respect to the application of the materials. High temperature membranes as a key material addresses several issues at the system level, and not simply the material performance (conductivity, mechanical strength, etc.) but also fuel processing, water management, cooling, etc. Similar considerations might be equally important for other subjects in materials science.

Carlos Toro, Managing Editor Jillian M. Buriak, Editor-in-Chief



Views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the ACS.


(1) Li, Q. F.; He, R. H.; Jensen, J. O.; Bjerrum, N. J. Approaches and Recent Development of Polymer Electrolyte Membranes for Fuel Cells Operating Above 100 °C. Chem. Mater. 2003, 15, 4896−4915. (2) On May 3, 2016. (3) Wainright, J. S.; Wang, J.-T.; Weng, D.; Savinell, R. F.; Litt, M. Acid-Doped Polybenzimidazoles: A New Polymer Electrolyte. J. Electrochem. Soc. 1995, 142, L121−L123. (4) High Temperature Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells; Li, Q., Aili, D., Hjuler, H. A., Jensen, J. O., Eds.; Springer: London, 2016.


DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b01798 Chem. Mater. 2016, 28, 3235−3236