Energy, Volume 80, 2015, Pages 509–521.
Faculty of Science and Technology, Athabasca University, 1 University Drive, Athabasca, AB T9S 3A3, Canada.
Telephone: 1-7803944883, Email: [email protected]
Since its creation over 170 years ago, and despite major investments and efforts by stakeholders to move this technology to the mainstream over the last few decades, fuel cells today continue to be regarded as a fledgling technology. Why has scaling-up of fuel cells failed so often when many researchers have stated their successes at the small scale? Why do fuel cell stacks have lower durability, reliability and robustness than their individual cells? Could investments in a hydrogen fueling infrastructure stimulate advancements in the key issues of durability, reliability and robustness and substantially reduce fuel cell costs? In this paper, we will analyze and confront these fundamental questions to improve our understanding of the challenges of scaling-up technologies and identify key barriers. Then we will examine options and suggest changes in order to to substantially improve the durability and reliability of fuel cells (stacks) and reduce their costs.
The real barriers to fuel cell scaling-up are neither the development of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and market nor issues with hydrogen, but challenges within the fuel cell itself. Reliability may be more important than durability for acceptance by end-users but it receives a little attention. The development of theoretical solutions to uniform flow distribution problems have been improving the scientific understanding of scaling-up technologies and makes it feasible to overcome the key barriers of cost, durability and reliability. Experimental results demonstrated that an uneven flow distribution problem was the root cause of various failures in fuel cell stacks. A strategy for change would be to integrate fuel cell technology with other areas of science such as materials, catalyst and process control so that both existing and new knowledge can be implemented through an interactive practice. There are two key steps necessary to achieve the commercialization of fuel cells. The first step is to solve the issues of cost, reliability and durability. The second step is to build a new business model and develop standards for the industry. Iteration between models, experiments, chemistry, materials, control, design and manufacturing can create technical measures for substantial improvement of durability, reliability and robustness, while the development of markets will result in cost reductions, which would substantially accelerate the commercialization of fuel cells in the near future. This, in turn, will increase confidence in the public, investors and government in the viability of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and hydrogen economy.