SFU Fuel Cell Research Laboratory (FCReL)


“Our objective is to make a significant contribution to the development of sustainable energy systems through well-recognized, community-engaged research and training.”

Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell technology

A polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell is an electrochemical device that generates electrical power by converting a continuous supply of fuel (e.g. hydrogen) and oxidant (e.g. oxygen/air) into a product of lower specific energy (e.g. water). The PEM fuel cell was developed primarily for automotive applications, capitalizing on its high power output, compactness, low temperature and scalable architecture. Fuel cell solutions are considered a “green” technology with substantial environmental benefits including high efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, low noise and improved air quality. Our research team at SFU recently established a strategic research partnership with Vancouver-based company Ballard Power Systems, a world-leading fuel cell developer and manufacturer. We are currently conducting a wide range of experimentation and modeling for design of next generation fuel cells.

Micro- and nanofluidic energy conversion devices

Micro- and nanofluidic fuel cells represent a new fuel cell category that can be operated without a membrane and manufactured using inexpensive microchip assembly methods. More specifically, a microfluidic fuel cell combines all fundamental components of a fuel cell to a single microfluidic channel and its walls. In microchannels, the mixing of fuel and oxidant fluids is so slow that a membrane is not required for separation, and the fundamental principles of co-laminar streaming can be applied. At SFU, we are developing microfluidic fuel cell devices with power output and efficiency levels comparable to existing fuel cell technologies, but at significantly lower cost. In one configuration, we demonstrated the use of common pencil leads as electrodes.

Innovative fuel cell architectures and materials

A main thrust of the fuel cell research in our lab is to invent and develop novel cell architectures and materials, targeted at improved performance, added functionality, reduced cost and/or expansion strategies. In contrast to film-deposited electrodes, the geometry and mechanical properties of graphite rods (i.e. pencil leads) enable unique three-dimensional architectures well-suited for expansion of microfluidic fuel cell technology. Our prototype hexagonal array cell design provides scale-up/integration as well as power conditioning flexibility beyond that of a traditional fuel cell stack.

Fuel cell with flow through porous electrodes

Porous electrodes have many advantages in the context of microfluidic fuel cells. The overall active area of the electrodes can be increased by several orders of magnitude and the transport characteristics are significantly enhanced. Our team recently demonstrated a membraneless microfluidic fuel cell with flow-through porous electrodes. This unique, patent pending architecture is based on cross-flow of reactants through the electrodes into an orthogonally arranged co-laminar exit channel. The flow-through architecture features high power densities and fuel utilization up to 100% per single pass, and enables regenerative operation in the reverse flow direction (in situ recharging).

We are also evaluating microfluidic fuel cell designs for biofuel cells, utilizing biological enzymes or microbes as catalysts. We are actively seeking industrial and academic partners for further development of these technologies.

Modeling and simulation of transport phenomena in porous media

An analytical and numerical modeling framework is developed to support the research thrust in the areas of PEM fuel cells and microfluidic fuel cells. The fundamental understanding of transport phenomena in porous media is of great importance for both technologies. In this context, we are studying micro- and nanofluidic descriptions of fluid flow, electrochemical kinetics, reactant and product transport, heat generation and heat transfer; with the goal to provide guidelines and design tools for future fuel cell technologies. This research also encompasses a vital experimental component for model validation and proof-of-concept demonstrations. Advanced measurement tools and testing fixtures are under development in our lab.