Sustainable Product Development and Fuel Cell Systems

Omar Sustainable Product Development and Fuel Cell Systems

I recently went to China and gave a talk at Nanjing University entitled “Sustainable Product Development and Fuel Cell Systems”. Nanjing is one of the premier research universities in China, and has roots going back to the year 258 CE. The campus is brand new in a beautiful part of the city. My talk focused on one of the critical phase gates in any product development process, that of “Technical Readiness”. I discussed its definition, why it is critical in any product development process, and how it is achieved. Following this introduction, I focused on the status of the technical readiness of hydrogen fuel cells for automotive applications. In particular, I discussed some of the known failure modes associated with catalyst activity and durability, as well as those associated with managing the by-products of fuel cell operation, water and heat. It was pointed out that catalyst activity and durability are now approaching, if not meeting, the performance criteria set by the DOE. Furthermore, the recent disclosures by Toyota of the performance of its latest hydrogen fuel cell stack indicate a significant increase in power density, due to improvements in liquid water management within the stack. A few failure modes, like corrosion of the carbon catalyst support, still need further improvement. It is clear, however, that the next critical phase gate in product development, that associated with “production commit”, is now on the horizon. Perhaps that view is shared since Toyota and other car manufacturers now have units for sale in limited quantities.

What is needed now is a parallel and intense focus on demonstrating the cost effective generation and distribution of hydrogen. Ideally, the generation of hydrogen can be done renewably, so that the electrification of the automobile can achieve its goal of breaking transportation’s long standing dependence on the combustion of fossil fuels. One possible means is through wind or solar powered electrolysis.

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