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Fuel Cell Laboratory

Photo of a woman, in a lab, holding a metal box with wires attached.

NREL researcher tests the performance of a fuel cell at the Fuel Cell Laboratory.
Credit: Heather Lammers.

At NREL's Fuel Cell Laboratory, researchers test proton exchange membrane fuels cells (PEMFCs), with a focus on improving the performance and durability and reducing the cost of fuel cell components and systems.

Research efforts involve:

  • Developing advanced catalysts, electrodes, and membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) for hydrogen PEMFCs and direct methanol fuel cells
  • Testing MEAs for low and high temperature PEMFCs that have off-specification component thickness or other defects to determine how these defects affect performance and durability
  • Developing improved manufacturing processes and production-line diagnostics for MEA components for PEMFCs and electrolyzers
  • Examining how system and air contaminants impact fuel cell performance and durability
  • Performing fundamental performance and durability studies of cations that can be used in anion exchange membranes for fuel cells or electrolyzers.

NREL researchers are working with industrial partners—catalyst suppliers, MEA component suppliers, and fuel cell system integrators—as well as academia and other national labs to explore these issues.

The laboratory provides fuel cell test stations and other electrochemical characterization equipment, including potentiostats and frequency-response analyzers. The performance of a single fuel cell ranging from 5 cm2 to 100 cm2 can be tested. The test stations allow for the precise control of temperature, humidity, and gas flow rates. Hydrogen, oxygen, air, nitrogen, or other gases can be supplied to the fuel cell. Voltage and current are controlled by the electronic load.

The laboratory also has the capability for fuel cell durability tests and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. In addition, it’s equipped for the preparation of membranes, electrodes, and MEAs and has ex-situ characterization equipment such as a low-force micrometer for measuring thickness.