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International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

Life-cycle assessment of fuel cell stacks

Martin Pehnt
German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute for Technical Thermodynamics, System Analysis and Technology Assessment,
Post Box 800320, D-70503 Stuttgart, Germany

Life-cycle assessment is a useful instrument to evaluate the ecological performance of innovative energy systems. This
paper investigates the production process of polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) stacks, identi es the ecological contributions of various components and materials and compares the results with impacts due to utilization of the stacks in a
vehicle (i.e. hydrogen or methanol production and direct emissions). The production of fuel cell stacks leads to environmental impacts which cannot be neglected compared to the utilization of the stacks in a vehicle (the actual driving process). These impacts are mainly caused by the platinum group metals for the catalyst and, to a lesser degree, the materials
and energy for the ow eld plates. The paper identi es several options how to further enhance the environmental advantages of fuel cells. ? 2000 International Association for Hydrogen Energy. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights
Keywords: Fuel cells; Stack; Life cycle assessment; LCA; Polymer electrolyte fuel cell; Proton exchange membrane fuel cell; PEFC;
PEMFC; Hydrogen; Methanol; Platinum; PGM

1. Introduction
Before innovative energy systems are introduced into the
market, a thorough investigation of technical, ecological and
economic aspects is necessary. The ecological investigation
should take into account the full life cycle of that system.
In the past, for instance, it has been doubted that solar cells
have a positive total energy balance, meaning that they produce more energy in their lifetime than is required for their
production. Only detailed investigations into the energy need
and the di erent environmental aspects of the various production steps showed that the energy balance is positive and
that energy payback times on the order of several years only
can be expected [1].
Fuel cells are a future energy system with a high potential for environmentally benign energy production. Fuel
cells can be used in stationary as well as mobile applications. Depending on the type of fuel cells, stationary applications include small residential, medium-sized cogeneration
or large power plant applications. In the mobile sector, fuel

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E-mail address: (M. Pehnt).

cells, particularly low-temperature fuel cells, can be used for

heavy-duty and passenger vehicles, for trains, air planes or
boats. Mobile applications also include portable low-power
systems for various uses.
Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC), otherwise known
as proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC),
are of particular importance for the use in mobile and
small=medium-sized stationary applications. The interest in
PEFC applications is rapidly growing, especially because
of the commitment of automobile manufacturers to develop
fuel cell driven cars. Therefore, a life cycle assessment
(LCA) of PEFC seems appropriate to evaluate the whole
system. For this purpose, the production, utilization and recycling of PEFC was investigated. This paper is part of a series of investigations considering low- and high-temperature
fuel cells and related energy and fuel chains [2 6].

2. Advantages of fuel cells

PEFC o ers a number of potential advantages. Their modular structure allows the use of individual stacks in di erent
power ranges, e.g. 100 W systems for computer and other

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M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

portable applications, kilowatt systems for residential heating and hundreds of kilowatt systems for combined heat and
power production (CHP).
The high eciency can lead to a signi cant reduction of
fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition,
the electrochemical nature of the reaction, the low temperature in reforming steps and the necessity to remove impurities in the fuel (such as sulfur) result in extremely low local
emissions an important feature especially in highly populated areas. Because of their good dynamic response, PEFC
are particularly suitable for mobile applications, and the
high power-to-heat ratio increases the economically attractive electricity output in cogeneration applications. Finally,
the exibility regarding possible fuels with secondary energy carriers produced from natural gas, coal, crude oil as
well as biomass, solar energy and other renewable energy
sources being suitable primary energy carriers places fuel
cells in a hybrid position between fossil and renewable
3. Life cycle assessment (LCA) of future energy systems
LCA is a tool for the assessment of potential environmental impacts of products and services along the
whole life cycle (cradle-to-grave approach), from the
exploration of materials and fuels to the production of
the investigated objects and the disposal=recycling of the
objects. The LCA basically consists of four steps: the
Goal and Scope De nition in which the investigated
product, the data sources and system boundaries are described and the functional unit i.e. the reference of all
related in and outputs is de ned. The Inventory
Analysis involves data collection and calculation procedure to quantify relevant inputs and outputs [7]. The
potential impacts of the in- and outputs of the Inventory
Analysis are then determined by the Impact Assessment
which categorises and aggregates the environmental interventions. For that purpose, impact categories, such as
global warming, are de ned and characterization factors
calculated which determine the contribution of di erent substances to that particular impact category. In the
fourth, optional step, the Interpretation, the ndings from
the inventory analysis and the impact assessment are
combined to give recommendations or draw conclusions
(Fig. 1).
The environmental impacts of conventional power plants
or combustion engines are usually dominated by the fuel
production and combustion. The construction of the plant
and the infrastructure required are usually a factor 10 less environmentally relevant than the energy conversion because
of the high throughput and the long lifetime of the system.
Many renewable energy systems, such as solar cells, in contrast, show only zero or minimal emissions during the energy
conversion. Thus, the construction of the plant becomes the
dominant factor.

Fig. 1. Life-cycle assessment according to [7].

It is useful to investigate future energy systems such as

PEFC at an early stage of market development. This is, of
course, coupled with the methodological problem of anticipating technological (e.g. future energy consumption for
certain production steps) and societal (e.g. the choice of
energy carriers for the electricity mix) developments. To
bene t from the results of this LCA, a set of prognostic methods was developed which allows the LCA at an
early stage of market development while ensuring that the
statements are stable and not very sensitive to the assumptions. The methods used are described in [6] and include
expert judgements, transfer of surrogate data from technologically comparable upscaled production processes, and
cost estimation methods. However, for the LCA of PEFCs
only a few such assumptions had to be made leading to
stable conclusions regarding environmental impacts of the

4. Goal and scope denition

4.1. Goal of the study
This LCA serves three purposes:
To determine the relative importance of the stack production compared to the utilization phase of the stack. This
relative importance might increase due to excellent environmental behavior during the use of the stacks.
To determine potential for improvements or possible limitations with respect to the production of stacks.
For future analysis, e.g. comparing alternative drive
trains, the stack LCA can be incorporated into total
vehicle LCAs.
The functional unit of the LCA is the production of a
75 kWel stack as used for future fuel cell cars. In a streamlined LCA, also a 275 kWel stationary stack was investigated. The data for the production was researched at
Ballard. Ballard as the world leader in PEFC stack production is closest to production and commercialization of
PEFC. Therefore, the data is considered to be most representative for the state of the art and future stack production.

M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101


Data for fuel cell-speci c materials was researched at

di erent companies over the past two years by DLR. The
LCA software platform GaBi 3 professional [8] was used
for the analysis and supplied additional data including some
energy and transportation processes.
The context of this LCA is a production plant in Germany
with consistent German production data. In the sensitivity
analysis, the in uence of the location, particularly the electricity mix, is investigated.

The global warming potential (GWP) is calculated for

CO2 , CH4 (21 kg CO2 -eq.=kg CH4 ) and N2 O (310 kg
CO2 -eq.=kg N2 O) using a reference time of 100 years.
The acidi cation potential (AP) assesses the increase in
acidity through emission of acids and compounds which
can be converted to acids. The factors used are taken from
[9]. Main contributors are the reference substance SO2
and NOx (factor 0.7 kg SO2 -eq.=kg NOx ).

4.2. Investigated system

5.1. Materials of special interest

The system investigated consists of an array of two stacks.

Each of these stacks includes a number of membrane electrode assemblies (MEA) and graphitic ow elds. The latter allows the feed of the fuel and oxidant and conduct the
generated electricity. The cooling medium can ow between
the ow elds.
The elements of the MEA are the anode at which the fuel
is oxidized and electrons are released and the cathode at
which the protons react with the oxygen and the electrons to
form water. Suitable platinum group metals (PGM) enhance
the kinetics of this reaction. The anode and the cathode are
separated by a proton conducting membrane.
The LCA comprises all the materials needed for this array
as well as the subsequent production steps (Table 1).

A number of di erent materials are used in PEFC. Of

them, a few are of special interest.

4.3. Data quality

As for all future energy systems, there is some uncertainty
regarding future developments of the fabrication, the production context (e.g. electricity mixes), the materials and
the performance of the systems. However, the data for materials as well as for the production stems from the manufacturers. This ensures that the data represents the state of
current knowledge.
From the sensitivity analysis it can be seen that an important in uence on the LCA is the allocation of environmental
impacts to PGM (see below). This is not a problem of data
quality, but a question of applying adequate allocation rules.
4.4. Investigated impact categories
A number of air and waterborne emissions as well as resource consumption were evaluated in this study. To achieve
a transparent presentation, beside the results of the inventory
analysis, only selected impact categories are considered:
The consumption of (non-renewable) primary energy is
calculated based on the energy content of the energy carrier usable with best available technologies, i.e. higher
heating value of hard coal and lignite, natural gas and
crude oil and the theoretical energy from nuclear ssion
of uranium ore.

5. Inventory analysis

5.1.1. Platinum group metals (PGM)

The catalytic properties of PGM make them an indispensable material for low-temperature fuel cells. PGM are
mainly produced in South Africa (68% of the world platinum supply and 75% of the world rhodium supply [10])
and as a by-product of nickel mining in Russia.
The mining of PGM results in signi cant environmental interventions particularly because of the SO2 emissions
along the production chain. Part of SO2 is emitted during
pyrometallurgical treatment of the material. The tailings of
the mining also act as potential sulfur sources even though,
in arid regions such as South Africa, the tailings are less
relevant with respect to SO2 emissions.
The assessment of PGMs leads to a number of methodological questions:
The allocation of the emissions to di erent products. In
South Africa mining of 1 kg platinum also yields 0.5 kg
palladium, 0.1 kg rhodium, 300 kg nickel and 200 kg
copper [11]. The emissions have to be allocated. The
allocation according to the mass of the product is not
useful because it does not mirror the motivation of the
mining company to run the mine. The South African production, for instance, supplies only 0.2 wt% platinum
which yields more than 50% of the return. No substantial
ecological interventions would be, in case of a mass allocation, allocated to the economically attractive product.
An allocation according to the reciprocal of the concentration would disadvantage the mines in which platinum
is only a by-product. The allocation according to the market price is, in this case, the most sensible one. The disadvantage of varying market price relations of the di erent
metals has to be minimised by averaging the price variations over a period of time. The approach of allocation
according to the market price is chosen in all evaluated
studies of PGMs [1113].
The suitable production country. The inventory analysis also varies with the production country because the
energy mix as well as technological standards (i.e. desulfurization facilities) and the necessary equipment are


M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

Table 1
Reference stacks and sensitivity analysis for the LCA of stack production
Reference stack PEFC
Electrical power

PGM loading
Production country

Data source
75 kWel (mobile)=275 kWel (stationary)
future series production (relevant for
energy consumption, catalyst loading,
0:3 mg=cm2 (mobile)=1 mg=cm2
South Africa
natural graphite
manufactured graphite
BAM membrane

Carbon bre
Sensitivity analysis
Case 1

Case 2
Case 3
Case 4

Streamlined LCA
according to [21]
[6] according to

German electricity mix, rst generation

stack, i.e. no recycled PGMs. Other
materials: recycling share according to
German average
Hydroelectricity, rst generation stack
Electricity from german electricity mix,
75% PGM recycling (mobile) or
90% PGM recycling (stationary)
75% PGM recycling (mobile) or
90% PGM recycling (stationary)

di erent in the di erent countries. In this LCA, South

Africa is chosen. There are contracts between the fuel cell
manufacturer and the PGM supplier. In addition, the
Russian PGMs are, for a great part, exported to Japanese
jewellery manufacturers.
The anticipation of the future development of environmental interventions. The Canadian Falconbridge plant,
for instance, reduced SO2 emissions from 190,000 ton=a
(1968) to 29,000 ton=a (1993).
Data gaps due to con dential environmental data or lack
of experimental information (e.g., SO2 and heavy metal
emission from tailings which are not considered in this
For the reasons mentioned, this LCA uses an analysis
directly researched at the South African plant [8]. PGMs
are not only of relevance for the stack itself, but for other
components of the plant, such as the catalytic burner for the
reformer or an eventual membrane for gas cleanup.
5.1.2. Graphite
Graphite as a material for the ow eld plates is of particular importance for fuel cell stack production. Princi-

Fig. 2. Processing steps of manufactured and natural graphite.

pally, two production paths of graphite can be distinguished

(Fig. 2). Natural graphite exists in several regions worldwide. China is a main producer of natural graphite. For this
LCA, detailed data was available for a German graphite producer. The energy consumption and the transport media and
distances vary according to the producing country, the electricity mix of that respective country and the hardness of the
ore [6].
Manufactured graphite can be produced from various
precursors, typically coke and coal tar pitch as a binder.

M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101


Fig. 3. Production process of typical fuel cell stacks at Ballard.

Both natural and manufactured graphite consume significant amounts of energy. Up to 160 MJ of non-renewable
energy resources per kg graphite are consumed for manufacturing. The energy consumption for manufactured graphite
is dominated by the electricity for the graphitization step
which is accomplished in an Acheson oven. In the case of
natural graphite, the electricity for mining and sizing is the
main factor.
5.1.3. Membrane
The production of the proton conducting membrane follows the Ballard membrane production process which is
based on tri uorostyrene and substituted tri uorostyrene
copolymers [14]. The production process includes the
production of the monomer, the polymerization, the liquid
solid extraction, drying and reaction with SO3 in organic
solvents. For the future, the use of solvent-less processes are
planned. The sulfonated polymer is then isolated, washed,
dryed and embedded into a porous structure. The LCA
comprises the necessary materials as well as energy inputs
for the production step.
5.1.4. Other Materials
The production of carbon bres resembles that of
graphite. In this LCA, however, polyacrylnitrile (PAN) is
assumed as the precursor material. The LCA is carried out
with industry data according to [8]. The PTFE (Te on)
production is assessed using industry data. Various other
materials as well as transports are assessed using the GaBi
3 professional database.
5.2. The production process
For the purpose of studying the environmental impacts
of PEFC production, the full production process (see
Fig. 3) at Ballard Power Systems Inc. was evaluated. De-

tailed data for material and energy requirements as well

as alternative production routes were available. This data
was then assessed using material speci c environmental
pro les.
The production process as realised at the Ballard pilot
plant consists of separate steps:
(1) the production of the gas di usion electrode (GDE)
including the application of the catalyst;
(2) the production of the membrane;
(3) joining of GDE and membrane;
(4) the fabrication of the bipolar plate;
(5) the assembly of the stack and
(6) subsequent testing.
For each of these steps, the required inputs, including materials, ancillary substances and electricity, as well as direct
emissions during production were determined for a reference automotive stack. The electricity demand of a few production steps was adjusted according to the planned series
production to account for higher throughputs and lower speci c energy consumption.
A streamlined LCA has been carried out for stationary
stacks. Stationary stacks have to ful ll more stringent requirements with respect to longevity and eciency. In contrast, they are not limited in terms of weight and volume.
Thus, stationary stacks show di erent characterics, especially more heavy ow plates, thicker membranes, higher
PGM loading (e.g. 1 mg=cm2 ), an operating point at lower
current densities and a higher weight per kilowatt.
All materials involved in current stationary stacks are analyzed. As information was only available for a prototype
line, not all the inputs for full scale production could be considered. Also, the options for reducing material and energy
input of this stationary stack were not considered. The error
should, however, be small because the results are dominated
by certain materials.


M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

Table 2
Inventory and impact assessment results of the LCA of fuel cell stacks

Electricity for production

PGM recycling?

Mobile stack
Case 1
German mix

Case 2

Case 3
German mix
Yes (75%)

Case 4
Yes (75%)

Stationary stack
Case I
Case 3
German mix
German mix
Yes (90%)

Non-renewable primary energy(MJ=kWel )

























Global emissions(kg=kWel )
N2 O
Local=regional emissions(kg=kWel )
Dust and particles
Impact categories(Kg=kWel )
Global warming potential (CO2 -eq.)
Acidi cation (SO2 -eq.)

Fig. 4. Contribution of the stack components (mobile stack, case

1) to selected environmental impacts.

6. Results
6.1. Cumulated environmental impacts
The cumulated environmental impacts are given in
Table 2.
To analyze the issues associated with the production of
fuel cell stacks it is interesting to consider the contributions
of the components and materials to the total environmental
impacts (Fig. 4). Two components are of special relevance.
The gas di usion electrode (GDE) is responsible for 74%
of the total acidi cation and for more than half of the global
warming gas emissions. The SO2 and NOx emitted during
processing the PGM (see above) cause this acidi cation.
If PGMs from, e.g., Russia had been used, these emissions
would be even more dominant due to the lack of desulfurization devices.

The carbon bre causes 5 7% of the environmental impacts. Given the low weight of the bres, this is a considerable share which is caused by the high-energy consumption
for the PAN precursor and the stabilisation.
The ow eld plate is the second important component
particularly because of electricity input for resin impregnation of the plate. Higher throughputs for series production
has already been assumed. Even higher production volumes
could half the speci c energy consumption. It is interesting
that the graphitic plates, commonly considered as a main
ecological factor, contribute 13% the global warming potential compared to 17% of the electricity consumption. This is
also a result of the e orts to reduce the weight of the ow
plates. These 13% are partly caused by the graphite production and partly by the use of a resin impregnant.
The membrane is, from an ecological point of view, not
very relevant because of the low energy consumption and
the closed production process (e.g. solvent recycling).
The NMVOC emissions stem mainly from the production
of the carbon bre (30%) and the methylacrylate (25%).
This calculation assumes that the emissions from the impregnation of the plates are burnt in an afterburner. If this
were not realized in future series production, the NMVOC
emissions would rise by 40%.
The stationary stack results, in terms of the primary
energy demand, the global warming and the acidi cation,
in speci c impacts (per kilowatt) which are roughly a
factor 25 higher (Table 2). This is mainly due to the
higher PGM loading, the higher input of graphite and the
lower power density at lower current densities. Compared
to the contribution of the components of the mobile stack,

M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

Fig. 5. Break-even hydrogen consumption as a function of the

PGM loading. Example: if the PGM loading is reduced to 50% of
the reference loading, the hydrogen consumption can increase by
5 and 70% so that the life cycle global warming and acidifying
emissions, respectively, remain the same.

a shift towards higher impacts of the ow plates can be

6.2. Improvement potentials
The results allow the identi cation of a hierarchy of improvement potentials for the further development of fuel
6.2.1. PGMs
The reduction of impacts by the use of PGMs is both
ecologically and economically of highest importance. There
are di erent options to reduce the e ect of PGM.
Reduction of PGM loading: Compared to earlier stack
generations the PGM loading has been reduced substantially:
from 8 to 1 and 0:3 mg=cm2 for future stack generations. The
lower limit of the loading is determined by the feasibility of
recycling and the loss in performance.
The in uence of the latter can be seen in Fig. 5. Under
the condition of equal life cycle emissions, a rather large
increase in fuel consumption depending on the impacts
considered can be allowed if hydrogen from natural gas
is considered. The high acidifying emissions in the life cycle
of the PGMs leads to the higher gure for acidi cation.
Maximizing the PGM yield during production: The yield
of PGM in the production process is very high already. Selective deposition of the catalyst ink and waste minimization
(alternative cutting procedures such as laser cutting, optimized GDE geometries) lead to an increase of PGM yields
up to 99%.
Recycling: The LCA case 1 assumes stacks of rst generation. An ecient recycling is necessary for economic
and ecological reasons. An ecient recycling system has
already been established in automobile exhaust catalyst recycling. Recycling catalysts can reduce the environmental
impacts for PGM production by a factor 20 (primary energy
demand) to 100 (SO2 emissions) [11].


The overall recycling quota depends on the (very high)

yield of the actual recycling process. A number of processes exists such as hydrometallurgical processes using
strong acids or pyrometallurgical processes where the substrates are molten down in a furnace. For fuel cells, adequate
recycling processes have been developed by Ballard and
The recycling quota, however, depends on a number of additional factors, such as the economic incentive (depending
on the PGM price), the availability of recycling infrastructure, the export quota in countries without such infrastructure
(e.g. about one third of the German decommissioned vehicles is exported to Eastern European countries), the growing number of fuel cell vehicles and thus insucient
availability of secondary platinum and the distribution of
PGM in the fuel cell.
Currently, 52% of the car catalysts in Germany are recycled [15]. Between 20% (platinum) and 5% (palladium) of
the PGM used for the production of catalysts in Germany
are secondary materials. In future, this percentage will increase as the number of European end-of-life cars with catalysts increases drastically. It is likely that due to the much
higher PGM use in fuel cell cars, recycling will be mandatory. This could be reinforced by measures such as leasing
of the stacks to the car owners or deposits which ensure a
high return rate. Thus, higher recycling quotas than for car
catalysts should be assumed. For the purpose of this study
(cases 3 and 4), a quota of 75% for the mobile stack (90%
for the stationary stack) is assumed. The results of this second generation stack are also given in Table 2.
Maximizing the eciency: Of course, maximizing the ef ciency by improving cell and balance of plant performance
reduces the required PGM loading due to a reduction of the
required active fuel cell area.
6.2.2. Electricity mix for production
The electricity mix has a substantial in uence on the assessment. The reference plant for this LCA was placed in
Germany. Germanys electricity production is based on lignite (28%), hard coal (25%), nuclear power (35%), natural
gas (6%) and renewable energy sources (5%).
If the stacks are produced in other countries the respective electricity mix has to be used. The in uence is shown
in Table 2, case 2, where hydropower electricity is assumed
for the production of the stacks representing a plant in Vancouver, Canada. It has to be mentioned that the electricity
for winning the materials is, of course, not a ected. The
global warming potential emissions decrease by 33%, the
acidi cation by 14%.
6.2.3. Long-term improvement potentials
There are additional options to reduce environmental impacts due to the stack production:
the elimination of components and their integration into
the stack (for instance, humidi ers, air compressors,


M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

reformers (direct methanol fuel cell) and ow management),

the recycling of components. In addition to PGM recycling, components such as the ow plates in stationary
stacks can be reused. The expected life time of the stationary plates, for instance, is 160,000 h.
The membrane can be delaminated from the electrodes,
rendered in solution and reused for desalination membranes or heavy-metal removal. In principal, the membrane can also be deposited. Incineration of the membranes similar to PTFE incineration results in HF
emissions which have to be carefully removed at the incineration plant.
6.3. Comparison of impacts due to mobile stack
production to impacts due to the use of fuel cell cars
It is interesting to compare the results of the stack production LCA to the environmental impacts during the utilization phase, i.e. the use of the fuel cell-driven car. For
this purpose, it is assumed that the fuel cell car runs with
hydrogen or methanol as fuels, the latter with an on-board
The LCA of hydrogen and methanol production, transport
and distribution as shown in Fig. 6 is described in detail in [6]
and is not the main subject of this paper. In that publication, a
number of di erent production paths are evaluated. In brief,
steam reforming of natural gas for hydrogen production and
combined reforming of natural gas for methanol production
are assumed (Fig. 6). The plants are typical for a modern
plant built in the next decade.
The eciency and the emissions of the hydrogen and
methanol plant have the main in uence on the LCA. However, also the natural gas source and composition (e.g. H2 S
content) and the transport distances are of importance. In the
methanol LCA, a mixture of methanol produced in Norway
and Russia is assumed. This assumption is necessary because
unlike the crude oil market no clear supply structure
of methanol as a fuel has developed in Europe at this point.
In future, however, locations closer (Netherlands) as well as
further away can contribute to the European methanol supply so that the assumption should be a good approximation
to future developments. The distances are adjusted to the
supply of German lling stations. The detailed results of the
LCA per MJ hydrogen and methanol are published in [6].
The fuel cell car (750 kg base weight) is de ned in detail in [6] with calculations from [16]. In short, the driving cycle consists of urban, extra-urban and highway parts
(Fig. 7). Assuming an optimistic, but realizable system ef ciency curve, a hydrogen consumption of 1.03 MJ=km (in
the case of hydrogen as fuel) and a methanol consumption of
1.26 MJ=km for methanol fuel cell cars are calculated. The
direct emissions are almost negligible. Therefore, most of
the emissions from the functional unit 1 km with fuel cell
car as shown in Table 3 stem from the energy conversion

Using this data for comparison, the life-cycle emissions

of the use (assuming 150,000 km) of fuel cell passenger
cars (including the production and distribution of the fuel
and the emissions of the car) can be calculated (Table 4).
For comparison, the life-cycle emissions for a future 5 l=km
gasoline combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) with optimised
catalyst technology are also given in Table 4. This car has
the same base weight and a gasoline consumption of 1.52
MJ=km as calculated by [17] using the same vehicle parameters as for the fuel cell car. The emissions of the vehicle
conform to the Euro 4 emission standard for European cars
which will be mandatory from 2005 on.
The production of fuel cell stacks leads to environmental
impacts which cannot be neglected compared to the impacts
of the utilization phase. The global warming gas emissions
and the consumption of non-renewable resources for rst
generation stacks (case 1) is on the order of one-fourth of
the emissions of the utilization of the car. The acidi cation
is of the same magnitude as that of the use.
It is important to note that, in addition to the stack production, a periphery for the compulsion system as well as
automobile body, etc., is necessary. The production of a total fuel cell vehicle, however, cannot be assessed at this
time as the con guration of the periphery is still uncertain.
It is clear that the fuel cell stacks represent approximately
10 wt% of the total vehicle, but substantially more environmental impacts (estimation: 50%) because ecologically
critical materials are involved. In the case of a fuel cell car,
with methanol as a fuel, some more PGM (on the order of
10 20 g) for catalytic converters and eventual gas cleanup
(e.g. Pd/Ag membranes) will be necessary. Pd, however, is
associated with lower emissions. The detailed comparison
of the production of the fuel cell car with the production of
a gasoline ICE should be repeated as soon as rst vehicles
from small-scale series production become available. For a
rst estimation using a detailed LCA of a Volkswagen [18],
see [6].
The situation changes when recycled PGM and hydropower electricity are used. The comparison with case 3
indicates that the impacts can be drastically reduced by the
PGM recycling. This is a phenomenon common to many
innovative systems: During the introduction of these technologies, the inherent advantages, e.g. the almost zero local
emissions of the fuel cell cars, might be covered by e orts
for the introduction or non-equilibrium e ects such as a
non-existent recycling infrastructure. Once these technologies have been established (e.g. a recycling infrastructure
has been implemented) the advantages, in this case the
drastic reduction of impacts in the utilization phase, can
unfold. Similar developments can be observed, for instance,
in the case of light weight vehicles where the recycling of
aluminum reduces the impacts of the construction of these
If stacks with recycled PGMs and hydroelectric power
are assumed (case 4), the almost zero local emissions
of the fuel cell car lead to a clear advantage of the life

M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101


Fig. 6. Hydrogen (left) and methanol (right) production from natural gas.

Fig. 7. Driving cycle used for calculating the fuel consumption.

cycle acidi cation potential even if the production is more

ecologically relevant. A gasoline ICE car emits 30 kg SO2
equivalents when driving 150,000 km, the fuel cell car only
1222 kg. Even if we add the 8 kg of stack production
and assume that the remaining impacts for fuel cell car
and ICEV are equal the total amount of SO2 equivalent
emissions is lower than that of a gasoline vehicle.
For global warming emissions of fuel cell cars driven
by methanol, however, no signi cant advantage in this
average driving cycle can be identi ed, a result which is
supported by analyses at other institutions [19,20]. Major
reasons are the lower eciency of methanol production
and the higher weight of the vehicle compared to ICE

6.4. Comparison of impacts due to stationary stack

production to impacts due to the use of fuel cell power
Although the environmental impacts of stationary fuel cell
stacks per kilowatt are higher than those of mobile stacks
due to the higher weight and catalyst loading, the higher
impacts of the stationary stack per power unit (kW) are more
than o set by the higher life time (40,000 h instead of 4000
plus the potential to recycle part of the stacks, e.g. the ow
eld plates) when moving towards impacts per energy unit
Assuming a similar balance of plant as the phosphoric
acid fuel cell, a streamlined LCA was carried out for the


M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

Table 3
Results of the LCA of 1 km driven in a fuel cell car with hydrogen (steam reforming of natural gas) and methanol (combined reforming of
natural gas) in a mixed driving cycle (Fig. 7) without vehicle production
Fuel cell car (750 kg base weight)

Fuel: hydrogen from

natural gas

Fuel: methanol from

natural gas

Non-renewable primary energy (MJ=km)



Global emissions (mg=km)

N2 O

97, 585


Local=regional emissions (mg=km)

Dust and particles



Impact categories
Global warming, potential (CO2 -eq.)
Acidi cation (SO2 -eq.)



Table 4
Life-cycle environmental impacts due to fuel cell stack production compared to impacts due to the use phase of fuel cell cars and combustion
Fuel cell car


Stack production
Impact category


Case 1a

Case 2a

Case 3a

Case 4a

Primary energy
Global warming (CO2 -eq.)
Acidi cation (SO2 -eq.)












a See

Table 4 for explanation of cases.

(mixed city, etra-urban and highway driving cycle). Including fuel production.
c ICEV: internal combustion engine vehicle (status 2010, 1:52 MJ gasoline=km, advanced emission standard Euro 4).
b 150; 000 km

total CHP system red with natural gas including the periphery of the system [6]. To most impact categories, the
production of the total system, assuming PGM recycling of
90%, contributes less than 8% of the life-cycle emissions.
If no PGM were recycled, the production would contribute
less than 13%.
Therefore, in stationary systems, the impacts of stack production are of much less relative importance than in mobile
systems. It has to be noted that in eet or truck applications
of fuel cells, higher life times and, therefore, lower speci c
environmental impacts will be achieved as well.

7. Conclusions
The use of fuel cell cars o ers advantages in terms of
(almost) zero local emissions. This advantage is especially
important for urban areas with severe environmental conditions. The production of fuel cell stacks, however, leads to
environmental impacts which cannot be neglected compared
to the utilization of the stacks in a vehicle (the actual driving
process). These impacts are mainly caused by the PGM materials for the catalyst and, to a lesser degree, the materials
and energy for the ow eld plates. Recycling of the PGM

M. Pehnt / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 26 (2001) 91101

is, therefore, a major not only economic requirement

for future stack generations and should be supported by legal or organisational measures. If recycling and a cleaner
electricity mix representing the production in Canada
are considered, the production of the fuel cell stack leads
to global warming emissions of 10% (8%) of the emissions
emitted due to the utilization of the car (driving 150,000
km) for hydrogen and methanol from natural gas, respectively, and 40% (38%) of the acidifying emissions. In this
case, a substantial reduction especially for hydrogen-fuelled
cars compared to future gasoline combustion engine vehicles can be expected.
The author wishes to thank the people who have contributed information to this paper, especially the sta at Ballard Power Systems for their support.


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