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There are links between electrode degradation processes and bus membrane durability, which could lead to improving durability in fuel cell powered buses.

That means a team is now quantifying the effects of electrode degradation stressors in the operating cycle of the bus on the membrane lifetime, researchers said.

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The findings of the study, led by Simon Fraser University (SFU) graduate student Natalia MaCauley, are the latest in a long-term study at Burnaby, BC, Canada-based Ballard Power Systems and funded by Automotive Partnership Canada that aims to make fuel cell buses competitive with diesel hybrids.

To improve fuel cell module durability and predict longevity, researchers are studying the degradation mechanisms of the fuel cells that occur under real-world transit bus conditions.

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“Our strong multidisciplinary collaboration between chemistry and mechatronic systems engineering (MSE) is bearing fruit,” said SFU project lead Erik Kjeang. “The fuel cell is a mechatronic device, and the bandwidth of this project allows advances in chemistry to be engineered and implemented into Ballard’s products.”

“We are pleased with the progress that our multidisciplinary team from SFU and UVic is making to develop improved membrane lifetimes for our next-generation fuel cell bus module and to understand the details of these complex failure mechanisms,” said Ballard lead Shanna Knights. “With continued work, this research will permit significant product costs savings and improved fuel cell lifetimes so we can directly compete against incumbent diesel technology.”

The research team, comprising 40 graduate students, undergraduate co-op students and post-doctoral fellows, is also developing simulation tools that industry partners can use in their testing protocols and operations of fuel cell buses.

Their objective is to operate fuel cells safely with extended lifetimes by studying how and why these fuel cells work, said SFU post-doctoral fellow Amir Niroumand, who heads the research on system level reliability and lifetime for fuel cell buses.

“Our algorithms can be used for repair and maintenance, following through something like the check engine light in the car,” Niroumand said. “When onboard diagnostics indicate maintenance is required, the check engine light goes on and tells you to take the car to the shop; however, the car would not stop and would continue to operate. This requires the capability to detect potential issues and determine operating capabilities.”

Ballard has been developing successive generations of products with improved durability for more than 15 years. Testing to improve the understanding of membrane failure mechanisms and validate developed predictive models is underway in labs at Ballard, SFU and UVic.

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