Starting in October 2020 the Department of Energy (DOE) created a new laboratory consortium with a mission to “advance the efficiency and durability of proton exchange membrane fuel cells at a pre-competitive level to enable their commercialization for heavy-duty vehicle applications.” The NIST Neutron Imaging Team contributes to the Component Integration thrust portion of this consortium led by NREL in order to image and study proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs).
True in operando imaging of PEMFCs to observe and quantify water transport phenomena is only possible with neutrons. NIST, in partnership with General Motors and support of the EERE has developed a world-class facility for in operando neutron imaging of fuel cells for light duty vehicles. Upgrades to the hydrogen infrastructure will enable imaging the full active area of single to 5 cell stacks that will compose a heavy-duty fuel cell engine. For fundamental materials characterization, we will develop a test section that enables simultaneous neutron and X-ray tomography (NeXT) for which NIST earned an R&D100 award in 2018. 3-D neutron imaging during transient operation has not been possible due to inherent flux limitations. NIST is developing a novel neutron microscope that will provide 3 µm spatial resolution with time resolution of about 1 s, which will enable real-time 3-D imaging.