Fuel Cell Manufacturing Research and Development

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.

A researcher monitoring web-line equipment in the Manufacturing Laboratory

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.

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."

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.

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.

Defect Detection in Fuel Cell Gas Diffusion Electrodes Using Infrared Thermography, Fuel Cells (2016)

Reactive Impinging-Flow Technique for Polymer-Electrolyte-Fuel-Cell Electrode-Defect Detection, Journal of Power Sources (2016)

High Throughput and High Resolution In-line Monitoring of PEMFC Materials by Means of Visible Light Diffuse Reflectance Imaging and Computer Vision, Proceedings of the ASME 2015 13th International Conference on Fuel Cell Science, Engineering, and Technology (2015)

Rapid Detection of Defects in Fuel Cell Electrodes Using Infrared Reactive-Flow-Through Technique, Journal of Power Sources (2014)

EERE Quality Control Workshop Final Report, Proceedings from the EERE Quality Control Workshop, in support of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (2014)

Detecting and Localizing Failure Points in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells using IR Thermography, Journal of Power Sources (2014)

Defect Detection in Fuel Cell Gas Diffusion Electrodes Using Infrared Thermography, ECS Transactions (2013)

Challenges to High-Volume Production of Fuel Cell Materials: Quality Control, ECS Transactions (2013)

Multi-Analytical Study of the PTFE Content Local Variation of the PEMFC Gas Diffusion Layer, Journal of the Electrochemical Society (2013)

Applying Infrared Thermography as a Quality-Control Tool for the Rapid Detection of Proton-Electrolyte-Membrane-Fuel-Cell Catalyst-Layer-Thickness Variations, Journal of Power Sources (2012)

2010 Manufacturing Readiness Assessment Update to the 2008 Report for Fuel Cell Stacks and Systems for the Backup Power and Material Handling Equipment Markets, NREL Technical Report (2012)

An Assessment of the Current Level of Automation in the Manufacture of Fuel Cell Systems for Combined Heat and Power Applications, NREL Technical Report (2011)


Michael Ulsh

Senior Engineer