What’s a Fuel Cell?
Fuel cells produce clean, efficient electricity using the chemical energy of hydrogen or other fuels. The only byproducts of hydrogen-powered fuel cells are electricity, water, and heat — and they can power anything from power stations to a laptop computer. Not only can they be used across multiple sectors, including transportation, energy, and aerospace, but they can be used in commercial, residential, and industrial applications. Fuel cells can even be used as long-term energy storage to help stabilize a renewable grid.
They’re great for the environment, too: Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy with zero emissions or lower emissions than combustion engines. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells eliminate carbon emissions and smog-generating particulate pollutants. Unlike combustion engines, fuel cells are also very quiet because they have fewer moving parts!
How do Fuel Cells Work?
They operate somewhat like batteries, but unlike batteries, they don’t deteriorate, run out of juice, or require recharging. Generally speaking, fuel cells are made up of a negative electrode (anode) and a positive electrode (cathode) sandwiched around an electrolyte. A fuel (like hydrogen, for example), enters the anode and is pushed into the cathode.
“In a hydrogen fuel cell, a catalyst at the anode separates hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons, which take different paths to the cathode. The electrons go through an external circuit, creating a flow of electricity. The protons migrate through the electrolyte to the cathode, where they unite with oxygen and the electrons to produce water and heat” (Energy.gov).
Why is FluidForming a Better Way to Make Fuel Cells?
FluidForming is a precision, sustainable manufacturing metal forming process that can form fuel cell diffusion layers and bipolar plates. The FluidForming process also enables the precise formation of heat exchangers and microchannel heat exchangers (microchannels are channels with a hydraulic diameter below 1mm).
To form fuel cells, we rely on the FormBalancer 25 (FB25), a high-speed metal forming machine designed to mass produce microchannel fuel cells and heat exchangers. Check out this case study on our conventional heat exchangers: Conventional Heat Exchanger Case Study.
FluidForming is the most precise and repeatable metal forming method available to fuel cell manufactures. We work with our customers to form parts to custom specifications. We use Finite Element Analysis to help ensure optimal part performance.
“There’s no other process on the market that can sustainably form fuel cells like this. We’re enabling fuel cell technology to become commercialized and more affordable,” said Paul Benny, President and CEO of FluidForming Americas. “The potential for this technology and for the FB25 to change entire industries — from aerospace to automotive to HVAC — is mind-boggling.”
The FormBalancer press is designed to accommodate exacting tolerances and utilizes FluidForming’s groundbreaking hydroforming technology. To achieve the level of detail necessary for repeatable production, the FB25 employs high forming pressures of 60,000 psi — well over industry standards. The machine also features automatic roll feed with automatic die trimming and accommodates tight radii requirements of 0.2mm and forming depths of 0.8mm.
Mass production of microchannel fuel cells and heat exchangers has traditionally been extremely challenging. Legacy metal forming methods such as die-stamping or bladder-based hydroforming are costly, unpredictable, prone to warping, and lack the pressures and repeatability of FluidForming.
FluidForming’s highly precise and repeatable process is changing the fuel cell industry and paving the way for cleaner energy production.
“The machine simultaneously produces two plates with an operating cycle of 20 seconds, meeting an annual part requirement of more than 1,000,000 components. With unprecedented accuracy, repeatability, speed, and forming capabilities, the FluidForming technology allows for the first-ever mass production of microchannel plates,” said Jurgen Pannock, FluidForming’s Chief Technology Officer. “FluidForming is the only Six Sigma metal forming process available and the implications of FluidForming on the future of the manufacturing industry are astounding. Ideas that were once deemed too costly, or impossible — like mass-producing microchannels are a reality with our technology.”
FluidForming Americas, Inc. is a member of the Precision Metal Forming Association and is AS9100 Rev D, ISO 9001:2015 certified.