In this paper, we present the results of our studies on conceptual design and feasibility experiments towards development of a novel hybrid manufacturing process to fabricate fuel cell bipolar plates that consists of multi-array micro-channels on a large surface area. The premises of this hybrid micro-manufacturing process stem from the use of an internal pressure-assisted embossing process (cold or warm) combined with mechanical bonding of double bipolar plates in a single-die and single-step operation. Such combined use of hydraulic and mechanical forming forces and in-process bonding will (a) enable integrated forming of micro-channels on both surfaces (as anode and cathode flow fields) and at the middle (as cooling channels), (b) reduce the process steps, (c) reduce variation in dimensional tolerances and surface finish, (d) increase the product quality, (e) increase the performance of fuel cell by optimizing flow-field designs and ensuring consistent contact resistance, and (f) reduce the overall stack cost. This paper explains two experimental investigations that were performed to characterize and evaluate the feasibility of the conceptualized manufacturing process. The first investigation involved hydroforming of micro-channels using thin sheet metals of SS304 with a thickness of 51 μm. The width of the channels ranged from 0.46 to 1.33 mm and the height range was between 0.15 and 0.98 mm. Our feasibility experiments resulted in that different aspect ratios of micro-channels could be fabricated using internal pressure in a controllable manner although there is a limit to very sharp channel shapes (i.e., high aspect ratios with narrow channels). The second investigation was on the feasibility of mechanical bonding of thin sheet metal blanks. The effects of different process and material variables on the bond quality were studied. Successful bonding of various metal blanks (Ni201, Al3003, and SS304) was obtained. The experimental results from both investigations demonstrated the feasibility of the proposed manufacturing technique for making of the fuel cell bipolar plates.
- Fuel cell
- Mechanical bonding
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Energy Engineering and Power Technology
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Electrical and Electronic Engineering