Fraunhofer IPT scientists are developing a non-stop fuel cell production line that can produce fuel cell components in cycles lasting just seconds.
Current fuel cell production is either too complex or slow, and that is why hydrogen-powered cars haven’t caught the auto industry and customers’ fancy as you would need many millions of fuel cells to convert hydrogen into power for that many vehicles.
What most manufacturers lack is a closed production chain for making fuel cell components and then assembling them to form the finished item, like on a assembly line production.
Various components are manufactured by various producers and then assembled to create the fuel cell.
The production steps such as forming, cleaning, coating or joining the fuel cell components are also spatially separated from one another in various machine islands.
“All in all, the logistics within our production facilities are complex. Parts have to be picked up, placed and buffered multiple times – that’s a time-consuming business.” notes Fraunhofer IPT’s Christoph Baum.
Baum and his team are thus developing a first-of-its-kind, non-stop pilot line that will make and assemble fuel cell components in one place.
Specifically, this is about producing the heart of the fuel cell, the ‘stack’, on which hydrogen is converted to water and the energy is collected.
This stack consists of hundreds of bipolar plates arranged on top of one another. The bipolar plates are pulled through an intricate system of millimeter thick channels, the hydrogen being fed in at one end and the water produced by the chemical reaction in the stack being fed out at the other.
Producing these bipolar plates is a challenge in itself; they are only about a hundred micrometers thick and tend to resemble a film rather than a plate.
More importantly, they need to be moved very carefully to make sure nothing gets creased or worse still wrinkled.
The IPT production line will hence feature special pick-and-place handling devices that hand down all components and the bipolar plates in such a way as to create a fluent process.
The IPT team is also working with Fraunhofer LIT, the Jülich Research Center and other partners, to process the bipolar plates in a film strip off the roll, so-to-speak.
This continuous process – from the roll to the finished item – will save a number of handling steps, thus making the IPT endeavor both speedy and efficient.
Image and content: Fraunhofer IPT