Faster fuel cell production

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Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have won a $1.6m federal grant to develop new ways to make a key component of the fuel cell.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have won a $1.6m (£1.1m)  federal grant to develop new ways to make a key component of the fuel cell.

Awarded by the US Department of Energy, the multi-year grant aims to create new processes that will allow fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) to be manufactured faster and more cost effectively.

Comprised of a stacked proton exchange membrane (PEM), catalyst and electrodes, the MEAs are the heart of a fuel cell.

’The new system we plan to develop is essentially a high-speed, high-quality assembly process for fuel cell MEAs,’ said Ray Puffer, principle investigator of the project and programme director for industrial automation at Rensselaer’s Center for Automation Technologies and Systems (CATS).

’If successful, we anticipate this project will reduce the time it takes to make MEAs, as well as improve uniformity, reduce defects and lower manufacturing costs. The end result will be cheaper, more reliable fuel cells for everyone.’

Working with Rensselaer collaborators Daniel Walczyk, professor of mechanical, aerospace and nuclear engineering, as well as CATS director John Wen, professor of electrical, computer and systems engineering, the team will work to integrate new sensing technology into the MEA pressing process to help ensure less defects and a more uniform performance.

To reduce the time it takes to press and assemble the MEAs, Puffer and his team also plan to develop an ultrasonic bonding process for assembling and fusing together the different components of high-temperature PEM MEAs. Early ultrasonic pressing designs and experiments have been promising, Puffer said, and have the potential to reduce the pressing process of a single MEA to less than one second.

’To be cost effective, the time it takes to manufacture a single MEA must be measured in milliseconds, or at most, a few seconds,’ added Puffer. ’Similarly, the time it takes to assemble a stack must be measured in seconds or minutes, instead of hours.’