SFU-led projects

SFU, Mitacs and Partners Greenlight Research to Advance Canada's Hydrogen Strategy

May 09, 2023
Simon Fraser University mechatronic systems engineering professor Erik Kjeang with a sample of a catalyst layer used in fuel cells.

A joint research project supported by Mitacs and the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and led by Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Erik Kjeang is helping scale up the technology needed to lead the transition to a hydrogen economy as part of Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy.

Kjeang is an SFU expert in community-centred climate innovation, a professor of mechatronic systems engineering and Canada Research Chair in Fuel Cell Science and Technology Development.

His Fuel Cell Research Lab (FCReL) in the new state-of-the-art building at SFU’s Surrey campus, is working with the company Greenlight Innovation to test fuel cells that generate electrical power by converting energy sources like hydrogen into electricity. The by-product of hydrogen energy is water, which is why hydrogen is considered clean or ‘green’ energy.

SFU and Mitacs have a longstanding relationship that connects SFU faculty members and students with companies that have real-world research challenges. Mitacs provides students and postdoctoral researchers with internships, fellowships, training and partnerships to apply their skills and develop their networks, building the next generation of innovators.

We spoke with Kjeang about the project.

Can you tell us about your project with Greenlight Innovation? What problem or challenge are you hoping to address?

Our current research project, “Rapid End-of-Line Testing for the Hydrogen Economy,” is a four-year collaboration with Greenlight Innovation, the global leader and manufacturer of fuel cell and electrolyser test stations. Their headquarters and manufacturing facility is based in Burnaby, British Columbia, with sales and service offices around the globe.

As the hydrogen industry enters mass production, manufacturers need testing systems and methodologies that can rapidly test their fuel cell and electrolyser stacks at end-of-line. However, these methods currently do not exist, and lengthy research and development (R&D) characterization tests are conducted to assess these stacks for potential manufacturing failures. This project aims to develop methodologies that can address this challenge by rapidly testing the electrochemical stacks and identifying any failures. 

How many students are working with you on this project?

There is currently one research associate, one postdoctoral fellow, two Master’s students, and one undergraduate student involved in the project. We have funding to hire one additional PhD student.

Mitacs-supported student interns with a Greenlight Innovation fuel cell test station: [l-r] Ian Garvie, Delin Ma and Lazar Cvijovic.

How are the interns contributing to the project and to the solution you are developing?

The Mitacs-supported student interns have been working with Greenlight Innovation engineers to design experiments and upgrade the test stations to conduct the tests. These tests are critical for validating the hypothesis of the methodologies that have been proposed to develop rapid end of line testing for the hydrogen economy.  

What is the value of partnering with Mitacs for the project? How does this partnership benefit SFU, your lab and Greenlight Innovation?

The Mitacs partnership has provided funding and testing resources to conduct the experimental work that is required to validate the rapid methodologies that are being developed. This has improved the collaboration opportunity between the university and the industry partner and has been critical for the work in this project.  

This project was enabled by a Mitacs-NSERC joint application process. What was the experience of engaging in this joint opportunity?

The joint application provided additional opportunities and resources to strengthen the collaboration and dive deeper into the project, benefiting both the advancement of science through NSERC and industrial applications through Mitacs, while simultaneously enriching and expanding the students’ training and experience. It’s a win-win-win-win for Canada, SFU, Greenlight Innovation and the students. Although the joint application was complex, we are pleased with the successful outcome, which will benefit everyone in the long run.

Canadian leadership in hydrogen means fuel cell components such as the catalyst layers must undergo rigorous testing before they are ready for mass production. SFU’s Fuel Cell Research Lab is developing rapid testing tools, and training the next generation of scientist-innovators.

Hydrogen is a key tool of Canada’s plan to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. In what ways might this project support that strategy? How does the project impact innovation in hydrogen and fuel cell locally and nationally?

Hydrogen is a key aspect of the transition to net-zero emissions through the production of green hydrogen via water electrolysis and the use of hydrogen in fuel cells to provide electrical power. A critical requirement to achieve this is the ability to manufacture fuel cells and electrolysers at mass production scale. However, the tools and practices that can achieve this are not readily available in the hydrogen industry.

This project develops diagnostic tools that enable rapid testing of electrochemical stacks at the end of the line, which is currently the major bottleneck in the mass production of these systems. This clearly enables scaling of the technology for mass production, which has many national and international implications in terms of the outreach of the hydrogen economy. The project will also train the next generation of future innovators in this field, maintaining Canadian leadership.

What comes next for this project?

We have so far developed hypotheses as potential methodologies to rapidly test electrochemical stacks at end of line. Next steps for the project are to develop models and conduct tests that validate these hypotheses. We will then move on to test them on large scale stacks with fuel cell manufacturers for their feedback and benchmarking.

To learn more about Erik Kjeang’s research and how SFU supports community centred climate innovation visit: www.sfu.ca/climate-innovation.