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Modeling and characterizing fuel-cell operation to predict product lifespan

Modeling Characterisation

Published on 7 May 2019

Fuel-cell lifespan modeling is a key research area at Liten. Being able to predict how different materials and operating conditions will affect a fuel cell’s useful lifetime is crucial to manufacturers across the fuel-cell value chain. Cheaper and better-performing catalysts, membranes, and other components are needed to make fuel cells more cost-competitive while achieving the longest possible product lifespans. 

Liten has been using modeling techniques to study fuel cells, batteries, and low-temperature electrolyzers since 2000. The research that had been taking place in various Liten labs—on materials, catalysts, cells, and systems—was restructured in 2013. The goal of the restructuring was to boost Liten’s research capacities in this field, ensure a coherent approach to modeling at all scales of the fuel cell, and get all researchers working toward common objectives. Today, one of the department’s major research areas, improving fuel-cell performance and extending product lifespans, addresses everything from materials to systems and leverages experimental data from all of our fuel-cell modeling labs.

This truly integrated approach to modeling is crucial to fully understanding the physical and chemical phenomena that affect fuel-cell lifespans so that lifespans can be predicted accurately. The department is home to scientists with expertise across the fuel-cell value chain, from component command-control and energy management and optimization through to liquid and heat transfer and electrochemistry. We also use two software applications that leverage specialized in-house development expertise. Researchers working on modeling and data analysis are in constant contact with each other; this cooperation is another key factor in achieving our research objectives. The data generated during experiments and simulations is analyzed and interpreted; the results are then used to set up additional experiments to in turn confirm our interpretations of the physical phenomena at work.

Our approach is to build on the knowledge created at each scale, from material to system, to ensure that the applications we develop for our customers are relevant. The department enjoys strong relationships with major manufacturers across the fuel-cell industry, academic research labs, and research institutes in Europe and the United States. However, only Liten can address the entire value chain, from the materials used to make fuel-cell catalysts up to the overall fuel-cell system, taking a bottom-up approach that starts with modeling physical phenomena that underpin degradation mechanisms, for example at the micro- and nanometric scales, and moving up to the cell and system. The goal, as always, is to reduce system costs and extend lifespans. Liten has obtained significant improvements on low-temperature fuel cells, carving out a position of leadership in Europe in this field. In terms of early-stage research, our scientists are looking at new materials and innovative catalysts to achieve breakthroughs in performance; these approaches could ultimately be studied using our simulation capabilities.

Finally, our comprehensive knowledge of every aspect of fuel-cell operation positions us to offer industrial partners services such as monitoring and analyzing the operation and performance of electricity-generating systems on board commercially-available or prototype vehicles in real-world operating conditions. We can help optimize consumption for a given travel route or adjust parameters like speed to improve overall efficiency, for example. We are also providing vehicle performance monitoring under the HyWay project, an experimental hybrid electric-hydrogen fleet rollout coordinated by the Tenerrdis energy cluster and the Mobilité hydrogène France consortium.


Know-how covering the entire value chain from materials to systems

Our department combines know-how in three major areas:

  • Experimental characterization, understanding, modeling, and simulation of physical and chemical phenomena at work in electrochemical generators, and of basic phenomena from the nanometric scale up to overall systems

  • Understanding of applications and capacity to select the most appropriate approach (experimentation or modeling), the correct scale of physical model, and the right numerical simulation methods according to the problems our academic and industrial partners need to solve

  • Analysis and design of the various components that make up a fuel cell and its command-control system with a view to enhancing performance and extending product lifespan

  • Modeling of physical phenomena: close and ongoing cooperation with experimental researchers to improve the interpretation of their results; development of mathematical models for the physical phenomena observed; validation of models

  • Multi-scale coupling: study of the effects of highly localized physical phenomena on overall system operation; scale-to-scale analysis and development of degradation rules for system management with a view to obtaining maximum performance and lifespan

  • Simulation: to right-size fuel cells, their components, and management systems 

  • PumaMind: The CEA is coordinator of this EU project on multi-scale simulation and modeling, factoring in degradation mechanisms and looking at scale-to-scale interactions across space and time.

  • Impact: EU research project for which the department developed an Ostwald process for the dissolution and redeposition of the platinum catalyst.

  • Second-Act: EU research project for which Liten developed a reversible-irreversible degradation mechanism coupling at different scales, studying the impact on local heterogeneities at the cell and stack scales.

  • Impala: EU project for which Liten, in conjunction with CNRS lab IMFT in Toulouse, improved the GDL pore network models (injection, condensation, real 3D structures, experimental validation of models).

  • More than ten researchers assigned to modeling

  • Publications:

Robin C, Gerard M, Franco AA, Schott P. April 15, 2013. Multi-scale coupling between two dynamical models for PEMFC aging prediction. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 38: 4675–4688.

El Hannach M, Soboleva T, Malek K, Franco AA, Prat M, Pauchet J. Holdcroft S. February 2014. Characterization of pore network structure in catalyst layers of polymer electrolyte fuel cells. Journal of Power Sources 247: 322–326.

Barre A, Suard F, Gerard M, Montaru M, Riu D. January 1, 2014. Statistical analysis for understanding and predicting battery degradations in real life electric vehicle use. Journal of Power Sources 245: 846–856.

Chandesris M, Medeau V, Guillet N, Chelghoum S, Thoby D, Fouda-Onana F. January 21, 2015. Membrane degradation in PEM water electrolyzer: numerical modeling and experimental evidence of the influence of temperature and current density. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 40 (3): 1353–1366.

Robin C, Gerard M, D'Arbigny J, Schott P, Jabbour L, Bultel Y. August 24, 2015. Development and experimental validation of a PEM fuel cell 2D-model to study heterogeneities effects along large-area cell surface. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 40 (32): 10211–10230.

Straubhaar B, Pauchet J, Prat M. September 21, 2015. Water transport in gas diffusion layer of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell in the presence of a temperature gradient. Phase change. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 40 (35): 11668–11675.