London Scientists to Substitute Bipolar Plates with Printed Circuit Boards to Reduce Cost

08 Mar 2012

PCB fuel cell

Scientists from University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London are developing fuel cells that substitute bipolar plates with printed circuit boards (PCB).  In fuel cell stack design bipolar plates act as current conductors between individual MEAs and are often designed to channel the flow of gases and heat to and from the cells. The plates tend to be made of heavy steel or graphite; the scientists claim their new assembly method, which would incorporate MEAs directly onto PCBs, could reduce stack cost by thirty percent thanks to the cheaper materials used in, and the manufacturing scale of, PCBs.

The new approach would also see current flow laterally across the PCB with MEAs arranged in layers; if one layer was to fail, the rest of the system can continue to operate – this could make fuel cells assembled in this way more reliable. The Carbon Trust has allocated £500,000 to the project; to date the scientists have only demonstrated the system operating at a few watts but are hoping to demonstrate a CHP fuel cell operating at around 1 kW by the end of 2012 and a prototype automotive fuel cell by the end of 2013.

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