BASF Environmental Catalyst and Metal Solutions (ECMS) and ZeroAvia partner to advance high temperature proton exchange membrane (HT-PEM) fuel cells for hydrogen-fueled aviation

30 September 2023

BASF Environmental Catalyst and Metal Solutions (ECMS), a renowned global leader in precious metal services and catalysis, has entered into an agreement with ZeroAvia, a pioneering force in zero-emission propulsion solutions for commercial aviation. The collaboration involves the supply of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) and joint research on next-generation MEAs for ZeroAvia's cutting-edge high-temperature proton exchange membrane (HT-PEM) fuel cell stacks designed for aviation. The primary goal is to expedite the development of a high-powered and lightweight MEA tailored for HT-PEM fuel cells, specifically tailored for the aviation sector. The HT-PEM fuel cell leverages ECMS's Celtec® technology and catalyst expertise.

In addition to the initial agreement, ECMS and ZeroAvia will strive to establish a long-term supply arrangement for MEAs, including the procurement and sourcing of the associated platinum group metals (PGMs) and PGM-containing catalysts. Collaborative development efforts will focus on enhancing the supplied components and materials, ultimately boosting the performance of ZeroAvia's HT-PEM fuel cell stacks.

For two decades, ECMS has been at the forefront of membrane and MEA technology for HT-PEM fuel cells through its Celtec® brand. The company also possesses a strong foundation in precious metal services and catalysis.

Jason Cox, Global Head of the Hydrogen Business at BASF Environmental Catalyst and Metal Solutions, expressed their commitment, stating, "We recognize the potential of our Celtec® technology to enable high-powered, lightweight, hydrogen-electric propulsion solutions and are committed to building a full loop supply chain for green hydrogen technologies including precious metal catalysts, components, and recycling. We believe the close cooperation with ZeroAvia will accelerate this technology, supporting the industry’s ambition for climate-neutral aviation."

ZeroAvia has achieved significant technological advancements by delivering a pressurized HT-PEM system. High-temperature PEM fuel cells are a pivotal enabling technology for various aircraft applications, including large fixed-wing aircraft, rotorcraft, and electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The increased temperature and pressure in these systems enable air cooling, reduce cooling drag, simplify the overall system, and ultimately facilitate more demanding applications.

ZeroAvia's testing of its pressurized 20kW HT-PEM stack power module has already demonstrated an industry-leading power density of 2.5 kW/kg at the cell level. The company is now targeting a system-level power density of over 3 kW/kg in the next two to three years, necessitating advances in various stack components. This advancement will expand the technology's potential to support regional turboprop aircraft and, potentially, hydrogen-electric propulsion systems for larger narrowbody turbofan aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.

Rudolf Coertze, Head of R&D at ZeroAvia, emphasized the significance of this partnership: "Partnering with ECMS enables us to accelerate our HT-PEM development, facilitating rapid development of our powertrains for large regional turboprop, regional jet, and ultimately, even narrowbody aircraft. This agreement is an important step towards securing the components that will enable the manufacture of the ZA2000 engines for 40-80 seat aircraft once certified in 2027."