Closing event and results of the hydrogen fuel cell recycling project

In December 2023, the BEST4Hy consortium met for its final general assembly and closing event.

In a two-day workshop, the international partnership of companies and institutes presented the results of the research programme. Representatives from the hydrogen sector and the recycling and metal industries were invited to the event and the public workshop at international level. Some of them – Toyota Europe Motor, Solvay, Hensel Recycling North America, Hellas CERTH, JRC and Enabled Future Limited – have accompanied and supported the BEST4Hy project from the very beginning as members of the advisory board. The project also collaborated with IMDEA Energy, the coordinator of the EU projects eGHOST and SH2E, with whom the BEST4Hy consortium has established a close co-operation to jointly research the sustainability of hydrogen technologies over the entire life cycle.

During the workshop, the challenges, and successes of the BEST4Hy project were presented to the public. First, the most important results on the recovered raw materials from EoL-PEMFC were presented, in which Hensel Recycling/IDO-Lab and the CEA research centre were primarily involved. More than 90% of the platinum was recovered using a hydrometallurgical process (TRL5). Using a novel method developed by the two BEST4Hy partners based on an alcohol solution and electrolysis/electrodeposition, a platinum recovery yield of up to 95% was achieved (TRL5). The recovery of other raw materials was also investigated, with recycling rates of up to 80 % for ionomer and up to 100 % for the membrane.

To close the loop, the recovered raw materials were tested in new MEAs by the company EKPO, which provided old MEAs for the dismantling and separation processes. CEA was able to produce new MEAs that consisted of 100% secondary platinum and met the requirements. EKPO tested the MEAs with satisfactory performance under industrial conditions, with the MEAs achieving approximately 92% of the voltage of EKPO’s commercial material.

In addition to PEMFCs, the project also investigated the recovery of raw materials from SOFCs. The Politecnico di Torino worked together with two research teams on EoL Solid Oxide Fuel Cells from the manufacturer Elcogen and developed new processes for recovering anode materials (nickel, yttrium-stabilised zirconium dioxide) and cathode materials (lanthanum, cobalt). As a result, more than 80 % of the raw materials could be recovered and used in new SOFCs. The BEST4Hy project has gained important insights from tests on SOFCs and paved the way for further research into the recovery of materials from EoL SOFCs at a higher technological level.

Ecological and economic aspects are also key factors for the use of hydrogen technologies. As part of BEST4Hy, the University of Ljubljana made an important contribution to the LCA and LCC analysis of hydrogen fuel cells. The modelling of EoL strategies developed on the basis of BEST4Hy technologies enabled the preparation of a life cycle assessment: the innovative recycling processes developed within BEST4Hy are able to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20% when the entire life cycle of hydrogen fuel cells is taken into account, from production to end of life.

There is currently no ecolabel for fuel cells on the market. However, the EU Ecolabel and EPD International could be voluntary certification schemes. As part of BEST4Hy, RINA has developed specific guidelines for the industry to drive the development of rules for product groups and product categories as well as proposals for the identified labelling schemes.

At the end of the workshop, ENVIPARK and RINA held a discussion on the standardisation roadmap for hydrogen fuel cells. A global analysis of the current hydrogen market shows that an increase in demand for hydrogen systems is expected by 2030, taking into account various applications from the stationary to the mobility sector. There has also been an increase in demand in recent years, although no significant quantities of fuel cells or hydrogen technologies have been recorded.

Sustainability is a key aspect for all products in today’s world, and the industry needs to find an answer to this. As part of BEST4Hy, research has made progress in the recovery and recycling of materials from end-of-life hydrogen technologies, making an important first step and contribution to research. However, further research funding is needed to further develop the technologies and approaches and to overcome the challenges of implementation.

Anna Marchisio, Business Development Manager Hensel Recycling: «Over the past three years, we have worked tirelessly to achieve and even exceed the project goals we set ourselves. To this end, we have researched and developed innovative methods for dismantling and disassembling fuel cells through to environmentally friendly processes for recovering platinum and ionomer. Together with a strong network from industry and research, we have succeeded in taking an important step into the future. We at Hensel Recycling are taking this as an incentive to further optimise and scale up the processes we developed in the project.»

About BEST4Hy

BEST4Hy stands for «SustainaBlE SoluTions FOR recycling of end-of-life Hydrogen technologies» and is a research project funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking (now Clean Hydrogen Partnership) under grant agreement no. 101007216. The aim was to develop environmentally friendly technologies for the recovery of raw materials relevant to the supply chain of hydrogen technologies.

The Best4Hy (SustainaBlE SoluTions FOR recycling of end-of-life Hydrogen technologies) project is funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme.

The international BEST4Hy consortium is made up of industrial partners and research institutes:

Environment Park SpA (Italy), CEA Liten (France), Turin Politecnico (Italy), Hensel Recycling GmbH (Germany), IDO-Lab (Germany), EKPO GmbH (Germany), Aktsiaselts Elcogen (Estonia), RINA Consulting SpA (Italy), University of Ljubljana (Slovenia).