PEM fuel cell challenges are ‘massively underestimated,’ says AVL whitepaper

PEM fuel cell technology challenges are often “massively underestimated,” according to a new whitepaper by Austrian technology company AVL.

The whitepaper Online Detection of Fuel Cell Degradation Mechanisms, hosted on H2-View.com, said durability was among PEM fuel cells’ “hidden challenges,” that drove major automotive OEMs to move their fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) launch dates back from the early 2000s.

“Typical durability related tasks are the selection of ‘the right’ materials, ‘the right’ operating strategy and ‘the right’ design, that ensures proper function and performance over the defined lifetime of the FCEV,” the whitepaper reads.

It said durability is the accumulation of the “little mistakes’ and the “devils-in-the-detail” that defines material, operating strategy and design selection.

Noting thermal, hydration, potential and mechanical as the four major stressors in fuel cell operation that significantly contribute to degradation, AVL said due to their interconnectivity, they can quickly turn into a “multi-dimensional challenge.”

“Fuel cell degradation is a multi-dimensional challenge with many cross-dependencies, non-linear sensitivities and hidden, self-enforcing feedback loops, which are easy to underestimate or to miss,” the paper said.

Due the limited opportunities to optimise materials and design because of FCEV application requirements and framing conditions, the paper said early degradation detection is the “strongest” alternative to improve product lifetime.

“The amount of data produced during the development of a FCEV is enormous and the volume generated by vehicles in-use by the end-consumer is even bigger,” the paper reads. “The feedback of aftersales, workshop and vehicle in-use data into development and engineering processes get more and more essential for product optimisation and to stay competitive.”

It said the learnings from in-use data can be valuable for the development of next generation products and designs to save costs.

By understanding customer use of fuel cells across different regions, fuel cell OEMs could kick-off market-specific validation to ensure vehicle quality and minimise validation efforts, according to AVL.

You can access the full whitepaper here.

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