Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

High Pressure Electrolysis using Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Technology (ST9580-1)

Plug Power, Inc.


Plug Power, Inc.'s GenCore 5kW proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell systems provide uninterruptible backup power for telecommunications huts, cell phone towers and other industrial applications. One limitation of the GenCore system is the need to deliver compressed hydrogen to the installation site. Delivery of compressed hydrogen storage tanks is a logistical obstacle and is expensive. Plug Power wants to overcome this limitation by developing a high pressure water electrolysis unit based on its PEM technology. The proposed solution is to use grid electricity to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen and replenish the on-site hydrogen storage system. Most commercially available electrolyzers provide low-pressure (100-200 psig) H2, versus the 2,400 psig H2 needed to refill standard gas cylinders. Most end uses of hydrogen require high pressure H2; therefore, low-pressure electrolysis must be followed by expensive and inefficient mechanical compression to meet customer needs. Plug Power’s concept could reduce both the cost and energy burden of delivered hydrogen by avoiding mechanical compression.

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Project Description

This project was part of a long-term effort to develop a high-pressure electrolyzer suitable for use with uninterruptible backup power PEM fuel cell systems for high reliability applications, such as broadband and telecommunications applications. The electrolyzer will use grid electricity to electrolyze water, produce hydrogen at high pressure, and replenish the on-site hydrogen storage system. The objective of this project was to improve electrolyzer stack seal technology to enable operation at approximately 2,400 psig and to optimize the design of a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) for low-cost and long durability.


This project was designed leverage Plug Power’s core PEM technology to develop a complementary product that reduces cost and siting issues for backup power systems. There are several benefits originating from this project. They range from eliminating the delivery of fuels to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to reducing the cost of backup electric power for New York State consumers.

Project Results

The electrolyzer system analysis was completed and a design configuration was established that met projected customer requirements. Additionally, an optimum MEA configuration was established that meets performance and durability requirements at the lowest cost. Reduced membrane thickness and catalyst loading levels may be possible in the MEA, as test results did not indicate a significant impact on voltage degradation. No significant voltage degradation was observed when comparing distilled water for electrolysis to the more expensive deionized water, indicating it may be possible to use distilled water in certain field applications. The electrolyzer system and configuration resulting from this project are also under consideration for subsequent Plug Power applications.


Plug Power, Inc.
968 Albany Shaker Road
Latham, NY 12110

Principle Investigator

Jeffrey Boyer

Universities Involved


Project Type:

Product Development

Technologies Types:

Industrial Products

NYSERDA Contact Information

Scott Larsen


R&D - Mfg Tech & On-Site Pwr

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST9580-1

Last Updated: 12/7/2012