Fuel Cell Manufacturing R&D
NREL's manufacturing research and development (R&D) focuses on improving high-volume manufacturing of fuel cells. Increasing production volume and reducing production costs will enhance the benefits of fuel cells. Many challenges—including cost, performance, and durability—must be overcome before fuel cell systems become competitive alternatives for consumers.
Even though raw materials constitute a significant portion of fuel cell system cost, the cost of manufacturing is also significant, especially for fuel cell applications requiring large quantities of systems (at very low cost), such as for transportation. Currently, most fuel cell systems and components are made by labor-intensive processes, driving up the manufacturing cost. High-throughput manufacturing methods are needed to meet the volume and cost targets for transportation applications. Fortunately, much can be learned about high-volume manufacturing from other industries such as microelectronics, paper, and polymer films.
In-Line Quality Control
DOE and NREL recognize the need of R&D for manufacturing methods. With strong support and input from industry, they initiated a project to support one significant manufacturing area: in-line quality control.
For continuous (high-volume) manufacturing processes to obtain high yields, especially when the product requires close tolerances for proper operation, it is often necessary to measure the quality of the product as it is being made. This information can then be used to control the process so that tolerances can be met. To make these measurements, sensors are needed that can measure critical properties of the fuel cell component materials.
NREL's R&D manufacturing project goals are to:
- Develop sensors (or "diagnostics") and evaluate them in a manufacturing-like environment
- Understand the effects (on performance and durability) of defects in fuel cell components so that proper tolerances can be set
- Develop predictive models to help industry design better manufacturing processes and methods.
Publications and Presentations
2010 Manufacturing Readiness Assessment Update to the 2008 Report for Fuel Cell Stacks and Systems for the Backup Power and Material Handling Equipment Markets. Doug Wheeler and Michael Ulsh. (August 2012)
An Assessment of the Current Level of Automation in the Manufacture of Fuel Cell Systems for Combined Heat and Power Applications. Michael Ulsh, Douglas Wheeler, and Peter Protopappas. (August 2011)
Fuel Cell Membrane Electrode Assembly Manufacturing R&D. Michael Ulsh, Huyen Dinh, Guido Bender, and Niccolo Aieta. Excerpt from the Department of Energy's 2010 Annual Progress Report. (February 2011)
Manufacturing Readiness Assessment for Fuel Cell Stacks and Systems for the Back-up Power and Material Handling Equipment Emerging Markets. Douglas Wheeler and Mike Ulsh. (February 2010)
Contact: Michael Ulsh 303-275-3842