Fuel Cell Manufacturing with Laser Technology
Fuel cells are a promising solution for a greener future. They can play an important role to power commercial electric vehicles and facilities.
During fuel cell manufacturing, bipolar plates (also known as flow plates or interconnects) can benefit from laser surface preparation. Laser texturing and cleaning can prepare these plates for various protective coatings and adhesives with precision, speed, and cost efficiency. The same laser can also be used to mark plates for traceability.
Industrial Laser Applications for Bipolar Plates
Fiber lasers are increasingly used in the manufacturing process of bipolar plates. They are ideal to replace abrasive blasting and eliminate masking, which are hard to control and lack precision. A single laser unit can be used for texturing, cleaning, and marking applications.
Laser texturing etches metallic surfaces to create a repeatable texture and roughness on bipolar plates. This is used to improve adhesion for thermal spray coating, e-coating, and other protective coatings.
With its precision, laser texturing can texture specific areas while leaving the rest untouched.
Bipolar plates must be clean of all contaminants to meet the highest quality requirements.
Laser cleaning is used to remove oxides, oils, and other contaminants that would otherwise interfere the good adhesion of coatings. These contaminants also need to be removed to improve the overall efficiency of the fuel cells.
The same laser used for texturing and cleaning can be used to mark bipolar plates with a data matrix code. Using laser marking to implement traceability as well as laser cleaning and texturing is a great way to optimize your investment.
Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Applications
What is a Fuel Cell?
Unlike typical batteries, fuel cells do not store energy within their components. Instead, they generate power by transforming hydrogen and oxygen into electrical energy. To do this, fuel cells need a fuel that is rich in hydrogen. The most common type of fuel is hydrogen, but methanol, ethanol, and ammonia can also be used.
A single fuel cell does not generate enough power for most applications. For this reason, multiple fuel cells are assembled together to form a fuel cell stack and provide more power. Fuel cells are a component of a complete system that can be used, for example, in electric vehicle batteries or as backup power generators.
The Importance of Bipolar Plates
Metallic bipolar plates are an important element of hydrogen fuel cell power stacks used in vehicles. Each cell is sandwiched between two bipolar plates – one letting in hydrogen on the anode side and another oxygen on the cathode side to produce energy.
Metal plates are more robust, which is why they are used more often in the automotive industry. In a typical system, two plates are welded together so that the coolant fluid follows a path in between them called the flow field. Our laser technology is used in the surface preparation process to clean and texture the bipolar plates for optimal conditions before assembly.
How Hydrogen is Produced Matters
Hydrogen fuel cell technology can produce energy that is 100% green, where the only byproducts are heat and water. However, most of the world’s hydrogen is currently produced using natural gas, oil and coal. To meet sustainability goals and truly reduce green gas emissions, hydrogen production must be done using a renewable energy source such as solar, wind or hydro power. One exciting example is Canada’s deal with Germany to provide clean hydrogen produced using wind turbines as soon as 2025.