Fuel Cell Production: PEM Achieves Research Success


The chair "Production Engineering of E-Mobility Components" (PEM) of RWTH Aachen University has reached a milestone in the "Fuel Cell Performance Production" (FCPP) research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action. On the way to a novel coating concept for fuel cell membranes, the researchers have succeeded in producing a five-layer membrane electrode assembly (MEA). This is the performance-determining component of fuel cells.

  Membrane electrode assembly for fuel cells Copyright: © thyssenkrupp Automation Engineering

FCPP brings together numerous partners from industry and research to answer the question of how the fuel cell membrane – many times thinner than a human hair – can be coated continuously, ecologically and, above all, cost-effectively. "The overriding goal is to produce a complete fuel cell stack that meets industry requirements based on the new coating process," says Sebastian Hagedorn, head of PEM's "Fuel Cell" research group. To this end, the production of membrane electrode units has now been initiated in the Electromobility Laboratory (eLab) of RWTH Aachen University – with the researchers first getting to know the underlying materials and how to handle them better so that they can master the production process with confidence in the end.

Production of more than 1,600 high-performance MEAs as a target

"Up to now, joining a coated membrane with its edge reinforcement, for example, has proved to be a major challenge because the component's sensitivity to contact and moisture can cause it to corrugate even on brief contact with the ambient air, making further processing extremely difficult," explains PEM founder and head of PEM Professor Achim Kampker. A team of RWTH students is therefore working on a vacuum process that should enable the problematic handling of the membrane to be realized without damage and with positional accuracy. By the end of the project in 2025, the knowledge gained should enable the PEM researchers to produce more than 1,600 high-performance MEAs.

Conceivable application in commercial or heavy-duty vehicles

These components could be used primarily in transportation vehicles in the commercial vehicle and heavy-duty sectors: While purely battery-electric vehicles are used primarily in individual passenger transport, the fuel cell is considered promising in those segments where the battery is too heavy and too large – such as in trains, airplanes, buses, and trucks.

Further information on the project is provided here.