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For proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) to successfully penetrate the market, they must be able to offer longer lifespans at a lower cost. In research conducted under the EU COBRA project, researchers from Liten, a CEA Tech institute, worked with the other project partners (INSA Lyon, Impact Coatings, Borit, Cidetec, and Symbio) to make improvements to the components and manufacturing processes used to produce the bipolar plates in PEMFCs.
In particular, new plate coatings to replace the gold coating traditionally used to ensure good electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance were tested on planar samples. MaxPhase®, a low-cost coating developed and now sold by Impact Coatings, was selected from among several potential materials. At the same time, the researchers made improvements to the plate manufacturing processes. Hydroforming was chosen over deep drawing and cutting patterns were adjusted, resulting in production savings.
Once the samples had been tested in the lab, the innovations were integrated at the scale of an actual bipolar plate, and then into a 5 kW fuel cell prototype installed in a Renault Kangoo utility vehicle. The vehicle was road tested for more than three months, covering 9,300 kilometers. The observations made during the road testing campaign will be used in future aging models. The successful completion of the testing campaign is evidence of Liten's capacity to characterize and test innovations for automotive fuel cells in real-world conditions.
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.