The 3M Company is known for the variety of everyday products it has brought to the market, such as Scotch tape and Ace bandages. However, when we think of 3M we generally don't think of Cleantech R&D or Clean Energy patents.
So it may come as a surprise that 3M has received a Federal grant to develop a new fuel cell membrane. 3M’s experience in renewable energy and fuel cell research has led to a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a more efficient and durable fuel cell membrane (For an article with additional information click here).
3M is not new to the world of clean energy research. Since 2009, 3M has had a Renewable Energy Division; they have also been researching fuel cells as early as the mid 1990s. 3M’s most prominent renewable energy research has been related to solar energy. Its work in adhesives, tapes, and films lends itself well to solar energy applications. One of 3M’s more recent innovations is their Solar Mirror Film 1100. This film is a silver metalized reflective film designed to concentrate solar power for use in solar energy applications. Compared to glass mirrors, the solar film adds greater flexibility and reduced costs for varying solar energy systems such as the Large Aperture Trough (LAT) 73.
In addition to solar energy, 3M has also created many innovations in wind energy technology. They have been involved in wind energy innovation for over 40 years from providing dust respirators to protect windmill blade manufacturers, to creating wind protection tape that shields the edges of wind blades from the wear and tear of use. One of the newest 3M innovations in wind energy is their Wind Blade Protection Coating W4600. This product is a two-component polyurethane coating that provides erosion protection to prevent leading edge erosion on wind blades.
3M has made significant contributions to fuel cell research as shown by the fifty-plus fuel cell patents assigned to the 3M Innovative Properties Company (3M’s intellectual property division) in the last decade according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index. As mentioned above, 3M’s new federal grant is for developing a new fuel cell membrane. This is not the first time 3M has performed fuel cell research with support from the government. In 2006, the Department of Energy awarded a total of $100 million in research funds to various Universities, laboratories, and companies. 3M was among the recipients, receiving $17.3 million for projects to develop improved fuel cell membranes and advanced electrocatalysts (For more information click here).
Previous 3M research agreements have produced patents directed towards fuel cell technology. Cooperative agreement DE-FG36-07GO17006 was made between 3M and the Department of Energy with multiple University partners such as Case Western Reserve University and Colorado School of Mines. The purpose of the research was to analyze the factors affecting the conductivity and durability of membranes in fuel cells to develop new membranes with improved performance and durability during hot, dry operating conditions for automotive applications. Through this agreement, two patents were assigned to 3M based on a new proton exchange membrane with improved proton conductivity, chemical stability, and mechanical stability (see U.S. Patent Nos. 8,227,140 and 8,481,227). For more information on clean energy patents see the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index at www.cepgi.com.