STEINBEISWEG - The Optima Group has developed an automated machine process to increase the production capacity of fuel cells.
The new process, which covers the coating, cutting, assembling of the individual layers, and the stacking, is the company's response to the growing global demand for fuel cells.
"Greater use increases the need to produce fuel cells and drives demand for faster production. At the same time, extensive automation of the manufacturing process is essential to reduce production costs," the company said.
At the heart of the fuel cell is the membrane electrode assembly, or MEA for short. This is permeated by hydrogen and oxygen, which react with each other within the MEA. This electrochemically generates the electric current required for propulsion of the vehicle.
An MEA basically consists of an ion-conducting electrolyte membrane with a catalyst layer on the anode and cathode side (catalyst coated membrane, CCM) and gas diffusion layers (GDLs). These layers are delivered to the fuel cell or the MEA manufacturer as rolled goods or produced by the manufacturer itself. Here they need to be cut into the size required, assembled, and bonded.
"After spending several years in development, we are pleased that we can offer suitable machine solutions for all process stages involved in manufacturing MEAs, despite the high barriers to entry," said Juergen Bareiss, Head of the Optima Life Science business unit where the manufacturing technologies for fuel cells were developed. "In cooperation with Coatema Coating Machinery GmbH, total solutions that include unwinding, coating, and cutting GDLs as well as combining the GDL and CCM to form the finished MEA are now available. Stacking the finished MEAs into a fuel cell stack occurs in the final stages of development. This machine solution will also be market-ready by the end of the year."
"This was mainly possible due to synergy effects within the broad-based Optima Group, the courage to innovate, and preexisting technologies as well as know-how in web converting. Technologies previously used for manufacturing and packaging processes in the medical technology, consumer goods, and paper hygiene industries have proven to be extremely valuable. This makes Optima a leading supplier of complete solutions for fuel cell production."