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The Power of Seeing: CT scans unlock secrets to making longer lasting fuel cells

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Understanding what happens inside hydrogen fuel cells as they age is key to making zero-emission buses that can compete with incumbent diesel technology on both price and performance. Ballard Power Systems Inc. will soon have the answer with help from scientists at Simon Fraser University (SFU) who are installing powerful new CT scanners capable of "seeing" the structural changes occurring inside a fuel cell during everyday bus conditions.

"With this project, we'll be able to take an operating fuel cell, put it into this instrument, image it, and then put it back, and be able to do this periodically throughout its lifetime, so we can see how the structure changes," says Shanna Knights. "We can then use the knowledge gained to come up with improved designs, manufacturing processes, operating conditions and other strategies to produce a more durable, better performing and lower cost fuel cell for buses and our other market segments like materials handling, and backup power systems."

Ballard Power Systems has teamed up with SFU researcher Dr. Erik Kjeang on two complementary Automotive Partnership Canada (APC) projects to enhance the durability and reliability of heavy duty bus fuel cells. Kjeang, who got his start in 2008 as a research engineer at Ballard, is now one of the world's leading experts on fuel cells. He describes the skills he honed in industry as "absolutely essential for the productivity and success of both APC projects".

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