Skip to main content

Fuel Cell Manufacturing

Photo of scientific equipment in laboratory setting.

NREL's in-line diagnostics help industry identify defects in fuel cell components. This small-scale manufacturing line at NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility can convey fuel cell component materials at speeds of 100 feet per minute.

NREL's fuel cell manufacturing R&D focuses on improving quality-inspection practices for high-volume manufacturing processes to enable higher production volumes, increased reliability, and lower costs. Many fuel cell companies are transitioning from labor-intensive manufacturing processes to high-throughput manufacturing methods to meet volume and cost targets for transportation and other applications. Fortunately, much can be learned about high-volume manufacturing from other industries such as microelectronics and polymer films.

In-Line Quality Control

The U.S. Department of Energy and NREL initiated the in-line quality-control project with support and input from industry. 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 made. Resulting information can be used to better control the manufacturing process and ensure that tolerance requirements are met.

Thermal image with bright colors in center representing defect.

NREL engineers use active infrared thermography to identify defects in fuel cell electrodes, as displayed in this "thermal signature."

Such quality-inspection techniques must enable wide-area measurements of critical functional properties and identify defects in fuel cell component materials. In addition to being rapid, non-contact, and non-destructive, these techniques must work in the manufacturing environment.

Project Goals

NREL's fuel cell manufacturing R&D project aims to:

  • Evaluate, develop, and validate in-line inspection techniques for manufacturing fuel cell components and other clean energy technology materials
  • Understand the effects (on performance and lifetime) 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.


The following documents provide more information about NREL's fuel cell manufacturing research.

Contact: Michael Ulsh 303-275-3842