Further development of manufacturing technology for fuel cells

05.09.2022 Fuel cells generate electricity from hydrogen through an electrochemical process. For the further, rapid spread of fuel cell technology, rational manufacturing processes for the fuel cells themselves are a decisive factor.

Jürgen Bareiß (head of Optima Life Science, right) and Werner Volk (business development manager at Optima Life Science) present finished membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs).
© Photo: Optima
Jürgen Bareiß (head of Optima Life Science, right) and Werner Volk (business development manager at Optima Life Science) present finished membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs).

Optima Life Science (Schwäbisch-Hall, Germany) a specialist in the field of web-processing technologies, is currently developing a test converter specifically for the development and testing of innovative manufacturing processes. The company is receiving considerable funding from the state of Baden-Württemberg for this project.

Optima Life Science already offers production lines for fuel cells with high output. Against the background of this experience, the company is currently developing a modular test converter. Innovative ideas and process optimisations as well as product developments can thus be realised quickly and easily. In future, production processes for fuel cells will first be verified in the development environment and then transferred to high-performance plants.

Test converter: implementing ideas, accelerating development

Further developments in fuel cell technology will foreseeably require ever new designs and dimensions of fuel cells and thus also of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs). The expected need for development work and refinement of manufacturing processes is great. The OPTIMA MTC (Modular Test Converter) is a system that is designed precisely for this purpose. The variable arrangement of different processes, reconfiguration and the free addition and removal of process steps thus becomes reality. Both individual processes and complex process sequences up to the finished MEA for the fuel cell can be tested.

Another advantage is the reduced economic risk when product development and the development of the manufacturing process can go hand in hand. Ideas for process and product optimisations can also be implemented in a short time and validated in the course of product development. Insights gained can be quickly incorporated into production. Last but not least, sampling and small batch production will be possible on the OPTIMA MTC system.

Complex processes

The heart of the fuel cell is the membrane-electrode assembly. Hydrogen and oxygen are attached to this and electrical energy and water are produced in an electrochemical reaction. The individual components such as membranes, frame material and gas diffusion layers are each fed from a roll on Optima systems. Individual parts are cut to size and assembled into the MEA in a complex continuous web process. In order for the fuel cells to achieve the desired efficiency, all processing steps require the highest precision.

In addition to the manufacturing technologies required for MEA production, Optima can ensure the traceability of each individual MEA through its digital solutions.

Experience from projects already realised and enquiries from the hydrogen industry showed that there is enormous demand for product and process development. Optima Life Science is responding to this demand by developing and setting up the OPTIMA MTC test converter.

Funding from the Hydrogen BW Future Programme

In order to be able to exploit the full potential of the continuous production method and to support the rapid dissemination of this future technology, Optima has received funding from the state of Baden-Württemberg. As part of the "Hydrogen BW Future Programme", the Ministry for the Environment, Climate and Energy Management has been funding a total of 20 projects on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies since the beginning of 2022. The state government is providing budget funds of €26.4M for this purpose.

At the f-cell in Stuttgart, the leading international trade fair and conference for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, Optima will present current solutions for fuel cell and electrolyser production on 4 and 5 October (stand no. 2A37 in hall C2).