An investigation into the use of additive manufacture for the production of metallic bipolar plates for polymer electrolyte fuel cell stacks
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The bipolar plate is of critical importance to the efficient and long lasting operation of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEMFC) stack. With advances in membrane electrode assembly design, greater attention has been focused on the bipolar plate and the important role it plays. Although carbon composite plates are a likely candidate for the mass introduction of fuel cells, it is metallic plates made from thin strip materials which could deliver significant advantages in terms of part cost, electrical performance and size. However, there are some disadvantages. Firstly, interfacial stability of the metal interconnect is difficult to achieve. Secondly, and the issue addressed here, is the difficultly and cost in developing new plate designs when there are very significant tooling costs associated with manufacture. The use of selective laser melting (SLM: an additive manufacturing technique) was explored to produce metallic bipolar plates for PEMFC as a route to inexpensively test several plate designs without committing to tooling. Crucial to this was proving that, electrically, bipolar plates fabricated by SLM behave similarly to those produced by conventional manufacturing techniques. This research presents the development of a small stack to compare the short term performance of metallic plates made by machining against those made by SLM. Experimental results demonstrate that the cell performance in this case was unaffected by the manufacturing method used and it is therefore concluded that additive manufacturing could be a very useful tool to aid the rapid development of metallic bipolar plate designs.
KeywordsBipolar plate Polymer electrolyte fuel cell PEMFC Selective laser melting Additive manufacturing
The authors would like to thank the technical staff at Lancaster University, The Lloyds Register Lab for loan of equipment and particularly Hassan Abou Ghazala for manufacturing the GDLs.
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