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Fuel cell / Fuel cell test

What is a fuel cell?
A fuel cell is an electrochemical or galvanic cell that converts a fuel together with an oxidant into electrical energy and one or more reaction products. Classically, this is understood to be the hydrogen fuel cell, in which hydrogen as fuel and oxygen as oxidant react at a catalytically active membrane layer to form water and an electric current flows between anode and cathode.

Why use fuel cells?

Currently, the manufacturing costs are still very high, as there is no nationwide supply, but the use of fuel cells nevertheless has many advantages:

  • No mechanical wear parts
  • Exhaust gases (water vapour) are harmless to humans, animals and the environment
  • Fuel can be obtained from renewable energy sources
  • High power efficiency

  • Low operating temperature

  • Very good dynamics and scalability

What types of fuel cells are there?

Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC)

With operating temperatures of 30 - 100°C, they belong to the low-temperature fuel cells. The electrolyte is not liquid, but a thin polymer electrolyte membrane. Proton-conducting membranes with precious metal coatings on both sides are used to generate electrical energy from hydrogen, catalysing the conversion to pure water.

Advantages:

  • No wearing parts or exhaust gases (except water vapour)
  • Fuel can be obtained from renewable energy sources
  • High power efficiency even at low operating temperature
  • Good dynamics & scalability
  • Fast refuelling

This type of fuel cell is currently the dominant type for mobile applications and is particularly suitable for heavy-duty and train transport.

Hydrogen fuel cell (AFC - Alkaline Fuel Cell)

The alkaline fuel cell is a low-temperature fuel cell whose electrolyte is a concentrated potassium hydroxide solution, which gives it a high specific conductivity.

The replacement of the liquid alkaline electrolyte by likewise ion-conducting membranes (AEM) (here conductive for hydroxide ions) led to a renaissance of this oldest type of fuel cell. However, industrial maturity has not yet been fully achieved.

Advantages:

  • Cheapest cell technology - can do without expensive catalyst materials.
  • Direct conversion of e.g., methanol, format or liquid ammonia is possible with AEM.
Methanol fuel cell (DMFC - Direct Methanol Fuel Cell)

Particularly suitable for off-grid power supply for camping, military equipment or remote measuring stations.

High-temperature fuel cells (SOFC - Solid Oxide Fuel Cells)

SOFCs have high system efficiencies and can be used for efficient, decentralised supply security with combined heat and power. They can be operated with different energy carriers such as ammonia and hydrogen, biomass or synthetic fuels.

Biofuel cells

Living microorganisms or enzymes are used to generate electricity. Microorganisms regenerate and can live on many different substrates. Microbial fuel cells can break down pollutants, eliminate the need for energy-intensive aeration of the activated sludge tank and generate electricity at the same time.

There are many other fuel cells that are beyond the scope of this paper, such as micro fuel cells, reversible fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, phosphoric acid fuel cells and others.

Our solutions in fuel cell testing

Research efforts are currently focused on increasing power and energy density. These goals can be achieved by new materials, optimised operating conditions and improved heat and water management.

Test benches used for this purpose are offered by our partner Scribner. Scribner is one of the leading companies in fuel cell research and battery test systems.

The 850 fuel cell test system, for example, has a power rating of up to 100 A and an impedance range of 1mHz - 100kHz.

As a complete solution, test benches are available with extensive equipment for gas, water and temperature management, all mandatory safety devices and electrochemical analysis with a power up to 500 W. Membrane testers, various fuel cell types, MEAs and individual components are also available.

With tuneable loads, controlled gas mixtures and pressures, and humidity levels, a wide range of operating points can be tested. Potentiostats are capable of all common electroanalytical techniques and have an FRA unit for impedance spectroscopy. Important information such as cell performance, determination of catalytic activity, separation of resistance contributions from electrolyte, electron transport and contacts, monitoring of membrane and catalyst ageing, cross-over of hydrogen, identification of membrane defects, etc. can be obtained.

The FuelCell© software allows complete control and monitoring of all parameters of a fuel cell or stack. It is compatible with all common fuel cell types and is Scribner’s most widely used software flagship worldwide. FCView then analyses, displays and compares the data obtained, including amperometric data and modelling capabilities.

More affordable solutions for customised fuel cell test benches are provided by MaterialsMates. MaterialsMates specialises in the field of fuel cells, battery research and ceramics.

Our partners in fuel cell testing:

scribner

MaterialMates

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