Did you know human ears have the same muscles as cat and dog ears do? We just don’t have the input from our nervous system to make full use of them – and we have a similar problem with fuel cells. Long known as ‘the next big thing’ in energy, high-functioning fuel cells have been around for decades. Yet a lack of sustainable hydrogen means we haven’t yet capitalized on fuel cell technology.

Moving our ears isn’t the most pressing problem for humanity though. However, maximizing the potential of hydrogen fuel cells could revolutionize our world, transport, and beyond. Only recently have countries started producing enough renewable electricity to make hydrogen in the right quantities. On the plus side, this has given us time to enhance key fuel cell components, including membranes and catalysts, still further.

Shape up to scale up

Of course, there’s always room for improvement. As fuel cells become an increasingly viable solution for all kinds of applications, manufacturers need to find ways to monitor and control quality, bring costs down, and scale-up production. There are two promising areas in this regard.

First, the platinum-based catalyst, the most expensive component of any fuel cell. It’s important to understand the material characteristics of the catalyst ink to either reduce the amount of platinum needed or replace it with another, cheaper, element (ideally iron). The platinum dispersion will affect how well the ink covers the fuel cell membrane. It is crucial in a layer just 10–20μm thick.

Second, the polymer membrane. Extremely thin and saturated with water, membranes are prone to freezing or tearing. They also need to be evenly coated with the catalyst ink at high speed. If high-quality fuel cells are to be produced reliably, cheaply, and in large volumes, we need to shape up. We can do that by carefully monitoring polymer membrane health during manufacturing.

Spoiled for choice

There are many technologies ideal for analyzing the platinum catalyst as a powder, dispersed in the ink, and after being applied to the membrane. X-ray, laser, and morphological instruments are highly effective tools for studying catalytic loading and particle size. In addition, near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is a valuable technology for monitoring the polymer membrane’s properties and behavior.

Tune in to find out more!

From our Aeris XRD to the Zetasizer, Malvern Panalytical offers all these solutions and more. Whatever your fuel cell research, development, and production challenges, we can offer all-around, cutting-edge support to help you evaluate and optimize your products.

Want to learn more? Join our fuel cell webinar on August 11, 2021! We’ll explore fuel cell membranes and catalysts, provide further details about our solutions, and answer your questions. We may not be able to move our ears yet, but by working together to optimize the manufacturing process, we can make the fuel cell scale-up a reality!

Sign up to attend the webinar here – and read more about fuel cells and Malvern Panalytical’s solutions for researchers and manufacturers on our website!