The US Navy continues to pursue electrochemical power sources with high energy density for low rate, long endurance air independent, undersea applications. The use of borohydride and hydrogen peroxide as fuel and oxidant sources offer several different fuel cell configurations; each with their own advantages and technical challenges.
The direct electro-oxidation and electro-reduction of sodium borohydride and hydrogen peroxide is conceptually a simple system. In the fuel cell configuration where Nafion 115 is used and both electrolyte solutions are allowed to have a pH >8, high efficiencies (>70%) can be maintained with careful control of the concentration of reactants in the flowing electrolyte, choice of catalyst and electrode architecture. The onset of borate precipitation is offset by diffusion of water created by the osmotic pressure between anode and cathode.
The direct liquid/liquid system has the potential to be a “2V” system if the pH of the hydrogen peroxide catholyte is maintained at a pH<1. In order to make this a viable system for Naval applications, the amount of acid used in the catholyte to establish the desired pH needs to be minimized. The key enabling technology is the development of a suitable anion exchange membrane. The characteristics of the anion membrane are: 1) conduct hydroxides generated at the cathode to the anode in order to minimize its concentration buildup in the catholyte solution and to maintain the desired pH.<1, 2) minimize hydrogen peroxide cross-over and 3) afford high ionic conductivity.
Efforts are currently underway to improve the understanding of the reaction mechanism of borohydride at the catalyst surface and to identify membranes with higher ionic conductivity. These efforts have been identified as critical paths for the successful development of a liquid/liquid borohydride/hydrogen peroxide fuel cell.