Flow Measurement & Control


Advanced leak testing techniques for fuel cell stacks

Technews Industry Guide: Sustainable Manufacturing 2023 Flow Measurement & Control

As the demand for sustainable mobility surges, the automotive industry is rapidly transitioning to electric- and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Among the promising options, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are gaining traction due to their eco-friendly nature. To ensure the highest performance and reliability of these fuel cell stacks, leak testing has become a critical aspect of quality control. Bronkhorst High-Tech, a leading manufacturer of flow meters and controllers based in the Netherlands, has embraced sustainable solutions and recently acquired an H2-driven company car, exemplifying their commitment to the cause.

Fuel cells operate by facilitating an indirect and controlled reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, producing water and an electrical current that powers the vehicle’s electric motor. To optimise this process, it is essential to prevent premature direct reactions between the two gases. Any short circuits or leaks between the hydrogen and oxygen sides, or blockages within the cell, must be meticulously identified and eliminated.

Car manufacturers rely on high-quality fuel cell stacks, which are assembled with parallel metal plates. However, during the assembly process, undesirable seals or particles may accidentally find their way between these plates. To safeguard the fuel cell’s efficiency and integrity, the incoming quality process includes comprehensive checks.

Bronkhorst’s innovative solution involves employing two distinct flow/pressure combinations. These combinations allow the user to control the pressure and measure the flow or vice versa, providing flexibility and precision during testing. Each flow/pressure combination comprises a mass flow controller for air or nitrogen and a pressure transducer. One combination is linked to the oxygen (cathode) side, while the other is connected to the hydrogen (anode) side, allowing for separate measurements.

To ensure the gas flow is free from solid particles that could compromise accuracy, filters are strategically placed before entering the flow/pressure system. The tests are performed in parallel, both forward and backward, to account for any variations that might occur. The client defines a specific pressure/flow window based on the fuel cell’s type and size. The measurement results must fall within this predetermined range for the fuel cell to be approved. Reproducibility of the test results is a critical aspect of quality control, as it ensures consistent and reliable assessments.

By implementing Bronkhorst’s advanced flow controller and pressure meter combination, car manufacturers can confidently assess the integrity of their fuel cell stacks. This cutting-edge testing approach not only guarantees optimal performance, but also contributes to the ongoing drive for sustainable and eco-friendly mobility solutions.

Bronkhorst High-Tech has 30 years, experience in designing and manufacturing precise and reliable measurement and control devices. With a wide range of instruments available, the company offers innovative solutions for a host of applications across many different markets. Its instruments are manufactured to customer specifications, with models that are suitable for use in laboratory, industrial and hazardous area environments. In addition, the company provides tailor-made, complete fluid control solutions for OEM systems. Bronkhorst High-Tech has a wealth of knowledge and an enviable worldwide reputation within the innovative fuel cell market.

Applications in the fuel cell industry include precise and fast mass flow controllers for gases; verification of catalysts; accurate and repeatable gas mixture generation; accurate and compact mass flow controllers for liquids; Coriolis type mass flow metres for precise and fast measurement of reactants or exhaust gas flow; flexible and accurate humidification of the air supply to a fuel stack using a CEM evaporation system; precise and reliable differential pressure controllers.


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