Testing Protocol Development for a Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell
Thesis DisciplineMechanical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Fuel cell technology has undergone significant development in the past 15 years, spurred in part by its unique energy conversion characteristics; directly converting chemical energy to electrical energy. As fuel cell technology has past through the prototype/pre-commercialisation development, there is increasing interest in manufacturing and application issues. Of the six different fuel cell types pursued commercially, the Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell has received the greatest amount of research and development investment due to its suitability in a variety of applications. A particular application, to which state-of-the art PEMFC technology is suited, is backup/uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, or stand-by power systems. The most important feature of any backup/UPS system is reliability. Traditional backup power systems, such as those utilising valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries, employ remote testing protocols that acquire battery state-of-health and state-of-charge information. This information plays a critical role in system management and reliability assurance. A similar testing protocol developed for a PEM fuel cell would be a valuable contribution to the commercialization of these systems for backup/UPS applications. This thesis presents a novel testing and analysis procedure, specifically designed for a PEM fuel cell in a backup power application. The test procedure electronically probes the fuel cell in the absence of hydrogen. Thus, the fuel cell is in an inactive, or passive, state throughout the testing process. The procedure is referred to as the passive state dynamic behaviour (PSDB) test. Analysis and interpretation of the passive test results is achieved by determining the circuit parameter values of an equivalent circuit model (ECM). A novel ECM of a fuel cell in a passive state is proposed, in which physical properties of the fuel cell are attributed to the circuit model components. Therefore, insight into the physical state of the fuel cell is achieved by determining the values of the circuit model parameters. A method for determining the circuit parameter values of many series connected cells (a stack) using the results from a single stack test is also presented. The PSDB test enables each cell in a fuel cell stack to be tested and analysed using a simple procedure that can be incorporated into a fuel cell system designed for backup power applications. An experimental system for implementing the PSDB test and evaluating the active performance of three different PEM fuel cells was developed. Each fuel cell exhibited the same characteristic voltage transient when subjected to the PSDB test. The proposed ECM was shown to accurately model the observed transient voltage behaviour of a single cell and many series connected cells. An example of how the PSDB test can provide information on the active functionality of a fuel cell is developed. This method consists of establishing baseline performance of the fuel cell in an active state, in conjunction with a PSDB test and identification of model parameter values. A subsequent PSDB test is used to detect changes in the state of the fuel cell that correspond to performance changes when the stack is active. An explicit example is provided, where certain cells in a stack were purposefully humidified. The change in state of the cells was identified by the PSDB test, and the performance change of the effected cells was successfully predicted. The experimental test results verify the theory presented in relation to the PSDB test and equivalent circuit model.