Fuel Cells

Research on fuel cells, energy conversion devices that generate electrical energy from chemical energy, has surged.  These devices can operate continuously, assuming there is a continuous supply of fuel (e.g hydrogen, methanol or carbon monoxide), providing a clean source of electricity for a range of applications from electric vehicles to backup power generation.

There are various fuel cell technologies that are commercially available, though research to improve efficiency, safety and performance is ongoing.  Some examples include proton exchange membrane (PEM), phosphoric acid, direct methanol and solid oxide fuel cell (SOFCs).  There are also emerging technologies under development, such as microbial fuel cells.  Regardless of the chemistry involved, all fuel cells include an anode, cathode and electrolyte.

The research in this area often begins with selecting the ideal anode or cathode and catalyst design, which typically involves the use of a rotating disk electrode or rotating ring disk electrode to evaluate the kinetics and mechanism of the fuel conversion reaction.  Other considerations include electrolyte/fuel composition and purity, cell geometry, membrane design, operating temperature and more.

Once a fuel cell has been designed, it is typical to characterize its performance by DC polarization experiments using a low current galvanodynamic scan as the signal, measuring the voltage response, and by high current pulse experiments, again measuring the voltage response.  In addition to DC techniques, fuel cells and fuel cell stacks are often characterized by electrochemical impedance spectroscopy.  These results can provide information about diffusion and the total cell impedance at different DC currents.

Princeton Applied Research and Solartron Analytical provide potentiostat/galvanostats with the accuracy, frequency range and accessories, including temperature control systems, required throughout the development of a fuel cell or fuel cell stack.  The PARSTAT 4000A is ideal for electrocatalyst evaluation and anode/cathode development, while the Modulab XM/ECS can be combined into one product for both materials analysis and complete fuel cell evaluation.