Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Yan Wang, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Michael T. Timko, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Ravindra Datta, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Susan C. Roberts, Department Head




Lack of energy storage is a key issue in the development of renewable energy sources. Most renewables, especially solar and wind, when used alone, cannot sustain a reliably constant power output over an extended period of time. These sources generally generate variable amounts of power intermittently, therefore, an efficient electrical energy storage (EES) method is required to better temporally balance power generation to power consumption. One of the more promising methods of electrical energy storage is the unitized regenerative fuel cell (UFRC.) UFRCs are fuel cells that can operate in a charge-discharge cycle, similar to a battery, to store and then to subsequently release power. Power is stored by means of electrolysis while the products of this electrolysis reaction can be recombined as in a normal fuel cell to release the stored power. A major advantage of UFRCs over batteries is that storage capacity can be decoupled from cell power, thus reducing the potential cost and weight of the cell unit. Here we investigate UFRCs based on hydrogen-halogen systems, specifically hydrogen-bromine, which has potential for improved electrode reaction kinetics and hence cheaper catalysts and higher efficiency and energy density. A mathematical model has been developed to analyze this system and determine cell behavior and cycle efficiency under various conditions. The conventional H2-Br2 URFCs, however also so far have utilized Pt catalysts and Nafion membranes. Consequently, a goal of this work was to explore alternate schemes and materials for the H2-Br2 URFC. Thus, three generations of test cells have been created. The first two cells were designed to use a molten bromide salt, ionic liquid or anion exchange membrane as the ion exchange electrolyte with the liquids supported on a porous membrane. This type of system provides the potential to reduce the amount of precious metal catalyst required, or possibly eliminate it altogether. Each cell showed improvement over the previous generation, although the results are preliminary. The final set of results are promising for anion exchange membranes on a cost basis compared Nafion. Another promising energy storage solution involves liquid methanol as an intermediate or as a hydrogen carrier. An alternative to storing high-pressure hydrogen is to produce it on-board/on-site on demand via a methanol electrocatalytic reformer (eCRef), a PEM electrolyzer in which methanol-water coelectrolysis takes place. Methanol handling, storage, and transportation is much easier than that for hydrogen. The hydrogen produced via methanol eCref may then be used in any number of applications, including for energy storage and generation in a standard H2-O2 PEM fuel cell. The mathematical modeling and analysis for an eCref is very similar to that of the HBr URFC. In this work, a comprehensive model for the coelectrolysis of methanol and water into hydrogen is created and compared with experimental data. The performance of the methanol electrolyzer coupled with a H2-O2 fuel cell is then compared for efficiency to that of a direct methanol fuel cell data and was found to be superior. The results suggest that an efficient and small paired eCRef-fuel cell system is potentially be a cheaper and more viable alternative to the standard direct methanol fuel cell. Both the H2-Br2 URFC and the methanol eCref in combination with a H2-O2 fuel cell have significant potential to provide higher energy efficiency and energy density for EES purposes.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Chemical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted



Restricted-WPI community only


molten salts, ionic liquids, anion exchange membranes, diffusion layer, mathematical model, efficiency, cation exchange membranes, fuel cells, PEM fuel cells, electrolysis, methanol electrolysis, methanol, catalytic reforming, hydrogen storage, electrocatalysis, energy storage, hydrogen-bromine fuel cell, alternative energy, hydrogen-halogen fuel cell, electrochemical energy storage, renewable energy, regenerative fuel cell, redox flow battery

Available for download on Monday, January 25, 2021