Membrasenz: New membrane for water electrolysis

The electrolysis of water is a central technology of the energy revolution. Surplus wind and solar electricity can thus be transformed into chemical energy. In alkaline water electrolysis, the membrane is particularly important for the efficiency and the purity of the hydrogen produced. A new membrane developed at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) now makes the process more efficient and cost-effective.

Since the ban on asbestos came into effect in 1993, replacement materials for membranes used in alkaline electrolysis (AEL) have been sought. The standard replacement products are usually Zirfon (ZrO2 based) or Ryton (plastic). However, both products come with considerable disadvantages, such as a lack of mechanical (brittleness) and thermal stability, complex and thus expensive production conditions and low ion conductivity, or a level of gas permeability that is too high, which in turn results in the production of low-quality hydrogen. At the Center for Electrochemical Sciences at Ruhr University Bochum, scientists around Dr Jelena Stojadinovic have now developed a plastic-based membrane which combines all of the desired benefits and at the same time – in contrast to asbestos – is compatible with the environment and health.

Engine for progress:

  • foundation of a start-up at RUB University
  • cost-effective production of membranes
  • increasing the efficiency of alkaline water electrolysis
  • retrofitting of existing electrolysers possible

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Photo: RUB Katja Marquard

The small gas-separators are characterised by the RUB researchers in the laboratory in relation to gas-tightness and ion conductivity, for example.

The large membranes are tested under industrial conditions. Larger examples with a diameter of 600 millimetres are also currently in development.

Links: Dr Jelena Stojadinovic, right: Dr Edyta Madej

Prototype for industrial conditions successfully produced

Surplus wind and solar electricity can be transformed into chemical energy using water electrolysis. Water is electrolytically split into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is a valuable chemical raw material, which is used in e-mobility and chemical production, for example. This form of energy conversion can therefore be used as electricity storage. In extensive model trials at the Center for Electrochemical Sciences at Ruhr University Bochum, the mechanisms for gas separation and ion diffusion were analysed. The membrane was then developed on the basis of this newfound knowledge. The MEMBRASENZ separator is produced using chemical modification of a polymer matrix. A prototype of the product has been tested successfully under industrial conditions. The above-mentioned positive properties have been determined and only the long-term stability under working conditions is still to be proven.

"Membrasenz" company founded

In June 2015, the "Membrasenz" start-up was founded to market and sell the membrane. A rigorously tested business plan forecasts excellent sales figures, both in Europe and in the USA. Existing electrolysers can be easily retrofitted with this membrane, and cooperation agreements with manufacturers of electrolysers are already in place.

Membrasenz took first place in the KUER Business Plan Competition 2015. Furthermore, Dr Jelena Stojadinovic was voted Engineer Power Woman 2015 at the Hanover Trade Fair and took first place in the Darboven IDEE Advancement Award for Entrepreneurs 2015 in Hamburg.

Photo: Privat

"This membrane has the potential to give alkaline water electrolysis a real boost!"

Dr. Jelena Stojadinovic, Managing Director of Membrasenz and scientist at Ruhr University Bochum

Partners and sponsors

  • Membrasenz
  • Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Zentrum für Elektrochemie
  • Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi)
Counselling centers:
  • EnergieAgentur.NRW