You are here

Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies


15. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies

Maximum Phase I Award Amount: $200,000

Maximum Phase II Award Amount: $1,100,000

Accepting SBIR Phase I Applications: YES

Accepting STTR Phase I Applications: YES


The Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) ( is part of DOE’s comprehensive energy portfolio to enable energy security, resiliency, economic value, and environmental benefits for the nation. The mission of HFTO is to conduct research, development and innovation to enable the adoption of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies across multiple applications and sectors at scale. To achieve this goal, HFTO invests in innovative technologies that show promise in harnessing American energy resources safely and efficiently. Fuel cells can address our critical energy challenges in all sectors – commercial, residential, industrial, and transportation.


Hydrogen fuel can be produced from diverse domestic resources, such as natural gas, coal, and biomass, as well as from renewables using methods such as direct or indirect water splitting. Hydrogen fuel cells are an attractive technology to power zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks and buses, as well as marine, rail, mining, and aviation applications. They offer several advantages over incumbent technologies: higher efficiency, reduced emissions, higher torque, and no noise pollution. Additionally, they offer fast fueling and adequate fuel storage for applications demanding longer range.


The HFTO program funds research and development to address key technical challenges for both fuel cells and hydrogen fuels (production, delivery, and storage) with medium- and heavy-duty vehicle applications as an emerging area of focus.


Applications submitted to any of these subtopics must:

·         Propose a tightly structured program including technical milestones that demonstrate clear progress, are aggressive but achievable, and are quantitative;

·         Include projections for cost and/or performance improvements that are tied to a baseline;

·         Explicitly and thoroughly differentiate the proposed innovation with respect to existing commercially available products or solutions;

·         Include a preliminary cost analysis and justify all performance claims with theoretical predictions and/or relevant experimental data.


Applications are sought only in the following subtopics:


a.      Novel PEM Fuel Cell Membrane Electrode Assemblies for High Efficiency and Durability in Heavy Duty Applications

This subtopic solicits proposals for novel and innovative concepts that advance the development and integration of electrocatalysts, membranes, ionomers, and/or gas diffusion layers for use in heavy-duty direct hydrogen polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, with a focus on high durability and high fuel efficiency.


Medium- and heavy-duty PEM fuel cell electric vehicles operating on hydrogen offer several advantages over incumbent technologies, including higher efficiency, reduced emissions, higher torque, and no noise pollution. Medium- and heavy-duty truck applications require a lifetime of up to one million miles, and therefore require fuel cells with innovative membrane, catalyst, and electrode structures with enhanced durability. Significantly longer vehicle lifetimes and range requirements also mean that hydrogen fuel costs comprise a greater proportion of vehicle lifecycle cost. As such, increased fuel cell efficiency is a key parameter for economic viability.


The heart of the PEM fuel cell is the membrane electrode assembly (MEA). MEAs rely on expensive Platinum Group Metals (PGM) as catalysts within the electrodes. A critical path to reducing fuel cell cost, in support of DOE’s Critical Minerals Initiative, is to reduce the amount of PGMs used in fuel cells, while maintaining fuel cell durability and efficiency. For state-of-the-art MEAs, durability and power output decreases with lower PGM loading. This makes it difficult to meet 2030 DOE target of 25,000 hours durability for medium- and heavy-duty transportation applications while simultaneously meeting targets for system cost ($80/kW) and efficiency (68% peak) [1]. In the most demanding applications, the conditions include operation in the presence of fuel and air impurities, starting and stopping, freezing and thawing, and humidity and load cycling that result in mechanical and chemical stresses on fuel cell materials, components, and interfaces.


To expedite heavy-duty fuel cell competitiveness, the DOE launched the Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck consortium (M2FCT), which includes national labs in partnership with universities and industry to accelerate R&D that would enable meeting a fuel cell durability of a million miles. M2FCT is a large-scale, comprehensive effort to enable widespread commercialization of fuel cells for heavy duty applications. The M2FCT cross-disciplinary fuel cell R&D Consortium is focused on achieving aggressive targets for fuel cell MEAs that meet efficiency, durability, and cost [2].


Designs for fuel cell MEAs submitted in response to this subtopic should demonstrate significant progress toward meeting the M2FCT 2025 MEA target of 2.5 kW/gPGM power output (1.07 A/cm2 current density at 0.7 V, <0.3 mg/cm2 PGM loading) after running a heavy-duty accelerated stress test equivalent to 25,000 hours.[1]


In addition, applications must include the following:

·         Details of any novel low-PGM cathode oxygen reduction catalyst synthesis, novel membrane synthesis, improved gas diffusion and ionomer materials, and electrode layer design and integration;

·         Details of how the approach improves durability and efficiency of low-cost fuel cells under realistic conditions; and

·         Details of how the approach decreases degradation in new and state-of-the-art material sets.


Phase I proposals should provide substantial evidence that the proposed MEA design and materials represent a significant improvement in efficiency and/or durability over state-of-the-art PEMFC MEAs that are used in current fuel cell vehicle applications. Applicants should collaborate with M2FCT where possible, including testing and utilizing appropriate accelerated stress tests (ASTs).


Questions – Contact: Donna Ho,


b.      Innovative Approaches to Minimize Boil-off Losses from Liquid Hydrogen Storage Systems

This subtopic solicits proposals for novel concepts, ranging from component level to system scale, that substantially mitigate, recapture, or beneficially use boil-off from either bulk stationary storage of liquid hydrogen, transfers of liquid hydrogen, or liquid hydrogen storage systems onboard transportation vessels, such that boil off is less than 0.1%. Examples include but are not limited to development of novel materials and components that manage heat transfer from liquid equipment, concepts to capture and recover boil-off vapor, and innovative integration of station components (e.g., cryo-pumps and liquid dewars).


Hydrogen is transported and stored in liquid form in applications where demand is significant and stable, but where overall regional hydrogen demand is not large enough to warrant the use of pipelines. Sectors that use liquid hydrogen include space applications, industrial facilities (e.g. metal processing plants), and fueling stations for hydrogen vehicles and material handling equipment. Given the exceptionally low boiling point of liquid hydrogen (20 K), boil-off losses throughout the delivery pathway, which includes trucking, offloading to a facility, storage and use of the liquid hydrogen at the facility, can be a substantial cost contributor. Mitigation of these boil-off losses will become increasingly important as newer applications for liquid hydrogen emerge, e.g. in heavy-duty transportation, marine vessels, and rail vessels where hydrogen may be stored onboard in liquid form. These applications will require a wide range of onboard liquid hydrogen storage capacities, from around 60 kg for long-haul Class 8 trucks, to thousands of kgs for larger marine vessels. Boil-off losses in these use cases are intimately tied to dormancy and duty cycles and could be just as significant as those present in refueling stations. Strategies to eliminate the boil-off of fuels in general have been explored in many other industries to date, including the aerospace and liquefied natural gas (LNG) sectors. Approaches that have been studied include innovative methods of insulation, mixing of layers within liquid dewars to prevent stratification, use of cryo-coolers, recovery of boil-off to power ancillary equipment, and sophisticated cryo-pump designs. Many of these approaches are capital-intensive, which prohibits their widespread use and would hinder any ability to achieve HFTO’s hydrogen cost targets.


Phase I of the effort is expected to involve an in-depth analysis that includes a preliminary design of the selected component(s) or strategy, as well as specific research, development, and (if reasonable within the Phase I budget) proof-of-concept testing of any new components or processes to show that they have the potential to be incorporated into a liquid hydrogen storage system. Phase II should focus on prototype development and testing at a scale relevant to demonstrate the viability of the concept for the specific application or use case being targeted. Identification of commercialization strategies and a market analysis should also be included. Identification of potential commercialization partners, with indication of commitment, would greatly strengthen Phase II proposals.


Questions – Contact: Zeric Hulvey,


c.       In-line Filter for Particulate Matter at Heavy-Duty Hydrogen Fueling Stations

This subtopic seeks concepts that can remove particulate contaminants from hydrogen fuel at fueling stations for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.


Hydrogen fueling stations for fuel cell vehicles conventionally use filters to prevent particulate matter from contaminating the vehicle [1]. Limits for particulate matter in hydrogen fuel for vehicles have been established by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2719 and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14687 standards.[2] Per SAE J2719, particulate matter must be limited to 1 mg/kg H2, and 99% of particulates larger than 5 micrometers should be removed before reaching a vehicle.[3] Filters that meet SAE J2719 requirements are available for light duty vehicle fueling stations, where the peak flow rate is less than 2 kg/min. However, filters that can support the need to fill at the higher flow rates (60 kg or more in approximately 6-10 minutes), needed for fueling medium- (MD) and heavy-duty (HD) vehicles, are not commercially available.


Proposed filter concepts must be capable of continuous operation at -40°C and pressures of 700-1,000 bar. The unit design should account for any occurring pressure drop due to the filtration. The unit developed must be capable of installation within a hydrogen dispenser, and potentially, at multiple points in the fueling system (e.g. between compressor stages) to mitigate the consequences of failure. The unit must be capable of an average flow rate of approximately 10 kg H2/min [4].


Phase I proposals should include concept development and feasibility evaluation of filter materials and design for key metrics, including durability under 1,000 bar pressure and -40°C temperature, and ability to meet SAE J2719 particulate requirements. Further, the resistance across the filter should not generate sufficient pressure drop to impact the desired flow rate and dispensing pressures.

Phase II proposals will involve incorporation of the filter design into a device that should additionally be easily field replaceable, and validation of the device. Phase II proposals must identify service life and provide criteria for filter replacement. Concepts proposed should target a capital cost of $500 or less.


Questions – Contact: Neha Rustagi,


d.      Efficient Chillers for Hydrogen Pre-cooling at Heavy-Duty Hydrogen Fueling Stations

This subtopic solicits proposals for R&D of novel concepts that will allow for maximum hydrogen refueling of medium- and heavy-duty (MD/HD) vehicles compared with traditional fuel routes.


Interest in the use of fuel cells onboard MD/HD vehicles is growing rapidly, due to their potential to enable high-power operation, long range, and zero emissions. Deployment of MD/HD fuel cell vehicles will require the development of novel hydrogen fueling technologies that can enable fills that are over five times faster than those of light-duty hydrogen fueling stations. While a fueling protocol for MD/HD fuel cell vehicles has not yet been established, the DOE’s target for hydrogen fueling of 700 bar onboard storage tanks include a fill rate of 10 kg/min with a hydrogen gas temperature of -40 °C [1]. Hydrogen chillers that can achieve -40 °C fills are commercially available, but do not meet the flow rate and cooling capacity requirements of MD/HD vehicles. Cooling capacities of up to 100 kW will be necessary to facilitate 10 kg/min refueling at -40 °C.[2]


Proposed concepts must adhere to the flow rate and temperature standards of 10 kg/min (maximum) and -33 °C at the point of dispensing within 30 seconds; however, viable alternatives to temperature standards will be considered. Proposed concepts can range in scope from component to system level. Examples include, but are not limited to, chillers that enable on-demand supply of cold hydrogen, short-term intermediate cold storage, and systems that circumvent hydrogen precooling. Proposed concepts should be applicable for use of either gaseous or liquid on-site bulk storage of hydrogen, however on-site hydrogen liquefaction concepts will not be considered for this subtopic.


Phase I of the project is expected to focus on an in-depth analysis of the system or component(s) proposed, refueling protocol efficiency and overall costs. Testing protocols, including safety, should also be established as a part of Phase I. Phase II will focus on prototype development and testing at the laboratory scale.


Questions – Contact: Neha Rustagi,


e.      Other

In addition to the specific subtopics listed above, the HFTO invites grant applications in other areas that directly apply to the advancement of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle applications, especially in terms of improved efficiency, increased durability, and reduction in cost.


Questions – Contact: Donna Ho,


References: Subtopic a:

1.      Marcinkoski, J., et al. “Hydrogen Class 8 Long Haul Truck Targets.” Program Record, December 12, 2019,


2.      U.S. Department of Energy. “DOE Launches Two Consortia to Advance Fuel Cell Truck and Electrolyzer R&D.” Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck (M2FCT) consortium announcement, October 8, 2020,


References: Subtopic c:

1.      Li, H., Song, C., Zhang, J. and Zhang, J. “Catalyst Contamination in PEM Fuel Cells.” In: Zhang, J. (eds) PEM Fuel Cells Electrolysis and Catalyst Layers. Springer, London.


2.      International Organization for Standardization. “Hydrogen Fuel Quality – Product Specification.” November, 2019,


3.      Society of Automotive Engineers. “Hydrogen Fuel Quality for Fuel Cell Vehicles.” March 18, 2020,


4.      Marcinkoski, J., et al. “Hydrogen Class 8 Long Haul Truck Targets.” U.S. DOE, October 31, 2019,


References: Subtopic d:

1.      Marcinkoski, J., et al. “Hydrogen Class 8 Long Haul Truck Targets.” U.S. DOE, October 31, 2019,


US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government