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Project “Cold start”: Testing cold start ability of fuel cells and better assessing of damage behaviour

The ZBT is currently developing a standardised test procedure to check the cold-start ability of PEM fuel cells and to assess their damage behaviour.

ZBT stack in the climate chamber and exemplary representation of the effect of low temperatures on the cell components (click to enlarge)

logo of AIF Forschungsnetzwerk Mittelstand
logo of Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action of Germany

Low temperatures of up to -40°C are not uncommon in the northern hemisphere. It is therefore all the more important that fuel cell systems withstand these environmental conditions. Residual and newly formed product water and ice can not only cause damage during commissioning, but in a worst-case scenario can lead to complete failure of the fuel cell. Among other things, this can be caused by irreversible changes and damage to the pore and microstructure of the membrane electrode units or blocked reactant inflows, which lead to electrical power losses and performance losses.

Cold start ability crucial for commercialisation

The successful and rapid start-up of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) at temperatures below freezing – also known as cold start – is crucial for the commercialisation and use of fuel cell systems in light and heavy commercial vehicles, among other applications. Within the framework of joint industrial research, a project recently started at the ZBT is now working on the development of a standardised test procedure for assessing the cold-start ability of PEM fuel cell components under laboratory conditions.

The researchers can build on the findings of the previous projects, in which the cyclic and permanent alternating load of freeze-thaw events (18224N and 19816N) was investigated. In this project, influencing parameters of the test boundary conditions are now to be investigated and the individual process steps are to be defined. In addition, a recommendation is to be derived. A differentiation between frost-induced and cold-start-induced damage should reveal correlations between material damage and causes of failure. Based on this, it should be possible to evaluate systems and components in terms of their realistic cold-start ability by means of fault and damage cataloguing.

Department New Materials and Technologies

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