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Step-change in manufacturing of Fuel Cell Stack Components

The projects will develop new, or adapt significantly different, manufacturing processes, already established in other high-volume manufacturing sectors, to replace the “FC-conventional” and cost-limiting processes employed in current pilot manufacturing lines for cells, stacks and stack components. The new processes will substitute entire manufacturing steps with new core process technologies or equipment. Once developed and validated, the new steps will be integrated into already existing pilot plants or full-scale manufacturing plant.

The innovative manufacturing technologies will need to be more efficient and less expensive than the techniques currently in use. The new manufacturing processes will also consider environmental aspects and aim at a reduced materials and energy use.

It is expected that projects will exploit the possibilities given by mature technologies, which will ultimately guarantee a combination of cost reduction with an increase in volume production, quality and cell performance.

The scope of each proposal is required to address the following main activities:

  • Identify at least two mature methodologies from other industries, whose implementation for the production of cells, stack components or stacks, could significantly improve their production process as specified hereafter.
  • For the identified methodologies, demonstrate the advancements with respect to the solutions currently in use and the benefits achievable for:
    • production process: cycle time, yield, materials input, reliability of the production process, product reproducibility and increased control over specifications.
    • manufacturing costs: cost of production line (i.e. less capital investment), operating costs (i.e. less expensive), energy input (i.e. more efficient), product quality (i.e. low variability);
    • cell/stack performance: power density, efficiency, degradation.
  • Down select the most promising new process for extensive manufacturing development and implementation and evaluation on existing small production lines or pilot plants and quantify and verify the expected benefits.
  • Evaluate in a consistent framework the performance and the quality of the cell, stack or stack components against the performance of those manufactured with one of the traditional methodologies.
  • Identify the limiting development factors of the other methodology/methodologies – not selected for the production testing – then improve the features and capabilities to reduce the gap towards the implementation within a medium time horizon (i.e. after the project end).

The projects shall

  • produce a sufficient volume of components by the new process to validate its capability and to enable the assembly and testing of at least two existing stack designs relevant to a practical stationary application;
  • demonstrate that innovative manufacturing routes can be scaled above 50 MW per year in a single production line while maintaining their competitive advantage.

The topic is not intended to cover the establishment of pilot or full-scale manufacturing plants, or basic research on new materials, or fundamentally new cell and stack designs.

The proposal has to include how the project strengthens the European industry and favours the creation of European anchored jobs.

Consortia should include at least one stack manufacturer and include a description of their supply chain including European companies. It is expected the involvement of industries or SMEs who may benefit from the creation of a new supply chain ready for larger production compared to the state-of-the-art.

To be eligible for participation a consortium must contain at least one constituent entity from the Industry or from the Research Grouping.

MRL start: 3

MRL end: 6

Any safety-related event that may occur during execution of the project shall be reported to the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), which manages the European hydrogen safety reference database, HIAD (dedicated mailbox

The FCH 2 JU considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 3 million would allow the specific challenges to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected duration: 3-4 years

While fuel cell systems have generally reduced their cost in recent years by building pilot manufacturing lines and benefiting from some early volume take-up on the Balance of Plant side; the cells, stacks and stack components are still the major limiting factors on the cost reduction curve. In the industry, several manufacturing processes for stacks and their key components have emerged as state-of-the-art, since their original development from the 1990s until today. More recent new and innovative processes, implemented in other sectors, have not yet been considered for fuel cell stacks and components, as the emphasis has been on making fuel cells perform as effectively as possible. Past FCH JU calls (2014-2015) have focused on BoP manufacturing and the improvement of existing manufacturing methods to increase yield and repeatability and reduce costs. However, in a young industry such as fuel cells, more innovative manufacturing processes, production techniques and approaches offer significant prospects for the greater cost reductions and quality improvements that are required as the industry moves toward mass production to follow the increased demand from growing fuel cell markets.

The most prominent step change featured in this call is to seek cross-fertilisation between fuel cell and other manufacturing sectors so that the use of less typical but potentially disruptive manufacturing techniques can bring the cell, stack components and stack cost, quality and performance a significant step beyond that achievable by today’s more “conventional” manufacturing process technologies. Among others, techniques such as extrusion, co-sintering, vacuum deposition and coating technologies, 3D (additive layer) and inkjet printing, as well as other technologies used in, for example, the microelectronics industry, are notable examples of newly-established industrial processes, which could provide benefits if implemented for fuel cells manufacturing.

Worldwide cost and quality leadership in cells and stacks can be achieved through this call, as cost-effective equipment and processes are essential to counterbalance somewhat higher labour costs in the EU. Innovative technologies will allow a more efficient and better controlled raw materials distribution into the electrodes, waste reduction, higher flexibility and reproducibility in terms of size and shape with respect to current technologies (e.g. tape casting, spray-drying, screen printing etc.). Moreover the new processes should guarantee the enhancement of cell performance towards the increase of power density, efficiency and durability. A successful project shall

  • demonstrate the potential cost reduction and scalability of the improved processes and assess their impact on EU competitiveness;
  • enable the production equipment manufacturers to open fuel cell manufacturing as a new market segment and generate and secure highly qualified jobs within the EU.

The projects should aim at a strong contribution to go clearly beyond the targets envisaged in the MAWP 2014 – 2020 (page 35) that could be achieved by simply following the established routes. Projects will demonstrate the achievement of cost reduction, as well as quality and performance improvement with respect to the following KPIs:

Specific KPIs for SOFC:

  • Stack Capex < 400 € /kW.
  • Power density > 0.35 W/cm2.
  • Degradation < 1.5% after a year test including 50 thermal cycles. Reference test conditions are reformate gas with S/C around 2 and fuel utilisation above 75%.
  • Lifetime expectation > 40000 h including typical start-/stop requirements for operations, maintenance and emergency shut-downs.

Specific KPIs for PEMFC:

  • Stack capex < 350 € /kW.
  • Power density > 0.67 W/cm2.
  • Degradation < 0.25%/1000 h.
  • Lifetime expectation > 20000 h.

Proposals should clearly report testing and operation conditions for a consistent assessment of the targeted KPIs.

The projects will pave the way towards the establishment of supply-chains with a positive impact on the creation of new jobs by enlarging the application of mature production methodologies to the fuel cells sector. This would also help to shift traditional production towards more added value components, leading to an increase in high profile jobs. Therefore, it is expected that the successful projects will make a valuable contribution to the achievement of other EU societal objectives (i.e. industry and economy growth, as well as jobs creation). Thus this will demonstrate that Europe will become a global leader in high volume and low cost fuel cell production, especially compared to Asia and America. Moreover, as a global leader, the reduction in imports from outside Europe could also be addressed together with the likely growth of the export market.