Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

NREL's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell efforts are quite extensive. Activities within the Chemistry and Nanoscience Center, funded by the Department of Energy's Fuel Cells Technology Office, focus on developing materials and components to help enable commercially competitive deployment of hydrogen (H2) and hydrogen-powered fuel cell devices in the market place.

Specific areas of active research include:

Fuel Cell R&D

Our fuel cell research and development (R&D) activities target improved cost, performance, and durability of fuel cell systems, with a focus on fuel cells for light-duty transportation (i.e., cars). Our current core and enabling competencies include alkaline membranes, extended surface electrocatalysts, and electrode integration. NREL serves as the Electrode Layer lead of the Fuel Cell Consortium for Performance and Durability (FC-PAD).

Testing and Fabrication

Our fuel cell and electrolysis testing capability is extensive and takes place within the Energy Systems Integration Facility NREL hosts advanced diagnostic test capabilities and the ability to test from small scale (single cm2 cells) to large scale (from 6-kilowatt stacks to 250-kilowatt systems). Additionally, we boast an advanced electrode fabrication capability, which includes multiple automated ultrasonic and electro-spray systems and in-line, roll-to-roll coating capabilities.

Hydrogen Production

We perform R&D in the area of H2 production using multiple routes including photoelectrochemistry (see Solar Fuels), bio-hydrogen, and renewable electrolysis. Activities within the Chemistry and Nanoscience Center focus on photoelectrochemistry and electrolysis.


NREL has led a 14-member, cross-National Lab effort to highlight the broad value of renewable hydrogen within the energy system, and to prioritize the R&D required to effectively achieve a sustainable energy system.

Hydrogen Storage Characterization and Optimization Effort (HySCORE)

NREL has had a long history in the area of H2 storage. Our current activities include quantifying storage characteristics of novel materials and helping to achieve Energy Department storage targets. NREL is the laboratory lead in HySCORE, a collaboration between NREL, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. The objective of HySCORE is to develop and enhance the Fuel Cell Technologies Office hydrogen storage core capabilities and validate claims, concepts, and theories of hydrogen storage materials.

ElectroCat Energy Materials Network (EMN)

NREL participates as one of four laboratories in the ElectroCat EMN.

HydroGen EMN

NREL serves as the lead laboratory for the HydroGEN EMN.


We engage in R&D to accelerate the pace and reduce the cost of manufacturing and deploying H2 and fuel cell technologies. Our activities include developing and demonstrating in-line measurement and detection techniques that can be applied to roll-to-roll manufacturing processes, studying the impact of manufacturing defects on device performance and lifetime, and exploring process-performance relationships and scalability in the production of cell materials.

Major Recent Publications

K.E. Hurst, P.A. Parilla, K.J. O'Neill, T. Gennett, "An International Multi-Laboratory Investigation of Carbon-Based Hydrogen Sorbent Materials," Appl. Phys. A 122 (2016): 42.

P.A. Parilla, K. Gross, K.E. Hurst, T. Gennett, "Recommended Volumetric Capacity Definitions and Protocols for Accurate, Standardized and Unambiguous Metrics of Hydrogen Storage Materials," Appl. Phys. A 122 (2016): 201.

S. Alia, S. Pylypenko, A. Dameron, K.C. Neyerlin, S. Kocha, B. Pivovar, "Oxidation of Platinum Nickel Nanowires to Improve Durability of Oxygen-Reducing Electrocatalysts," J. Electrochem. Soc. 163:3 (2016): F296–F301. DOI: 10.1149/2.0081605jes

K. Shinozaki, Y. Morimoto, B.S. Pivovar, S.S. Kocha. ""Re-examination of the Pt Particle Size Effect on the Oxygen Reduction Reaction for Ultrathin Uniform Pt/C Catalyst Layers without Influence from Nafion,"" Electrochimica Acta 213 (2016): 783–790.

K. Shinozaki, J.W. Zack, S. Pylypenko, R. Richards, B. Pivovar, S. Kocha, "Benchmarking the Oxygen Reduction Reaction Activity of Pt-Based Catalysts Using Standardized Rotating Disk Electrode Methods," Int. J. of Hydrogen Energy 40 (2015): 46.

K. Shinozaki, Y. Morimoto, B.S. Pivovar, S.S. Kocha. ""Suppression of Oxygen Reduction Reaction Activity on Pt-Based Electrocatalysts from Ionomer Incorporation,"" Journal of Power Sources 325 (2016): 745–751.

M. Ulsh, J.M. Porter, D.C. Bittinat, G. Bender, "Defect Detection in Fuel Cell Gas Diffusion Electrodes Using Infrared Thermography" Fuel Cells 16:2 (2016): 170–178.

J.L. Young, K.X. Steirer, M.J. Dzara, J.A. Turner, T.G. Deutsch, "Remarkable Stability of Unmodified GaAs Photocathodes during Hydrogen Evolution in Acidic Electrolyte," J. Mater. Chem. A 4 (2016): 2831–2836.

H. Döscher, J.L. Young, J.F. Geisz, J.A. Turner, T.G. Deutsch, "Solar to Hydrogen Efficiency: Shining Light on Photoelectrochemical Device Performance," Energy Environ. Sci. 9 (2016): 74–80.

J.L. Young, H. Döscher, J.A. Turner, T.G. Deutsch, "Reversible GaInP2 Surface Passivation by Water Adsorption: A Model System for Ambient-Dependent Photoluminescence," J. Phys. Chem. C 120 (2016): 4418–4422.

S.M. Alia, K.E. Hurst, S.S. Kocha, B.S. Pivovar, "Mercury Underpotential Deposition to Determine Iridium and Iridium Oxide Electrochemical Surface Areas," J. Electrochem. Soc. 163(11): (2016): F3051–F3056. DOI: 10.1149/2.0071611jes

S.M. Alia, B. Rasimick, C. Ngo, K.C. Neyerlin, S.S. Kocha, S. Pylypenko, H. Xu, B.S. Pivovar, "Activity and Durability of Iridium Nanoparticles in the Oxygen Evolution Reaction," J. Electrochem. Soc. 163:11 (2016): F3105–F3112. DOI: 10.1149/2.0151611jes

P. Rupnowski, M. Ulsh, B. Sopori, "High Throughput and High Resolution In-line Monitoring of PEMFC Materials by Means of Visible Light Diffuse Reflectance Imaging and Computer Vision," Proceedings of the ASME 2015 13th International Conference on Fuel Cell Science, Engineering, and Technology (2015).

M. Ulsh, J.M. Porter, D.C. Bittinat, G. Bender, "Defect Detection in Fuel Cell Gas Diffusion Electrodes Using Infrared Thermography," Fuel Cells 16:2 (2016): 170–178.

I.V. Zenyuk, N. Englund, G. Bender, A.Z. Weber, M. Ulsh, "Reactive Impinging Flow Technique for PEFC Electrode-Defect Detection," J. Power Sources 332 (2016): 372–382.


Bryan Pivovar

Group Manager/H2@Scale Lead


Photo of Huyen Dinh.

Huyen Dinh

Senior Scientist & H2 Production Lead


Photo of Thomas Gennett.

Thomas Gennett

Scientist VI-Multi Discipline


Photo of Michael Ulsh

Michael Ulsh

Manufacturing R&D Project Lead


The Chemistry and Nanoscience Center is part of the Materials, Chemical, and Computational Science directorate, led by Associate Laboratory Director Bill Tumas.