Climate change issues have forced humanity to consider alternatives to fossil fuels. One such example of this is within the automotive industry where original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are experimenting with a variety of powertrain architectures, including fuel cells.
However, the majority of vehicle platforms are optimised for the internal combustion engine and so are not well suited for the fuel cell stack and the difficult to package hydrogen storage tank.
As such, in order to understand and develop fuel cell technology for mobility, it is necessary to develop a vehicle platform from the ground up with the fuel cell powertrain architecture in mind. Examples of companies that have employed this strategy include the likes of Microcab and Riversimple.
The fuel cell stack being utilised for the above niche applications are made in China by Horizon. They are shipped to the UK and integrated into the vehicle by Arcola Energy, a London based developer, manufacturer and retailer of fuel cell-based energy solutions. Volume requirements for these stacks is set to rise in light of increased funding available driven by the ever-stringent vehicle emissions legislation. As such, it is the aim of Arcola Energy to work with Horizon to onshore the manufacture of fuel cells using automated machines and a UK supply chain where possible.
Regardless of application however, the volume manufacture of fuel cells and stacks presents enormous challenges due to the lack of knowledge with regards to the best manufacturing processes and practices to use. A significant amount of research has been carried out to investigate the failure modes of individual fuel cell components. Very little research has been carried out to investigate the effect of assembly processes and how they affect stack performance and degradation. In addition, there is a lack of published information concerning process flow, machine design or any academically justified fuel cell or stack assembly method.
It is the intention of this research to develop a simulation at a low level of detail that helps to visualise the flow of material for the manufacture of the fuel cell and stack. The development of a master assembly sequence and product design for manufacture will facilitate the design of a conceptual reconfigurable fuel cell assembly line. The key requirements of this line are the traceability of product birth history, scaliblity and the ability to accomdate a range of stack heights, active areas and potentially fuel cell types.
International Digital Laboratory
University of Warwick
E: Robert dot Harrison at warwick dot ac dot uk
E:j dot meredith at sheffield dot ac dot uk
Dr Axel Bindel
E:Axel dot Bindel at hssmi dot org
Dr Ben Todd
E:ben at arcolaenergy dot com