Heat Management for Fuel Cells

By March 20, 2023 4   min read  (652 words)

March 20, 2023 |

Fuel Cells Works,Heat Management for Fuel Cells

Fuel cells hold a lot of promise as both a green power source and an energy storage option. However, as they see rising adoption across a widening range of use cases, their unique concerns are becoming increasingly evident. Heat management is one of the most significant of these considerations.

Recent extreme cold weather events have led to increasing scrutiny over electric cars, particularly battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). As fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) become more popular, some may extend these concerns to hydrogen power. Amid that trend, addressing fuel cell thermal management is becoming all the more important.

The Importance of Heat Management in Fuel Cells

Like batteries, fuel cells lose efficiency in low temperatures. It’s also worth noting that combustion engines do the same, though less dramatically. EVs also face more scrutiny in this matter because, with less waste heat, they must use more electricity to power internal heaters, draining their power more quickly.

High heat also poses an issue. If fuel cells get too hot, they may degrade faster and encounter performance problems. Because fuel cells are typically expensive, these breakdowns can pose significant barriers to the hydrogen market.

These factors mean fuel cells must operate in relatively narrow temperature ranges. What exactly that range is varies depending on the kind of cell and its surrounding environment. Just as indoor insulation values vary by room shape, material and more, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal fuel cell operating range.

The only two emissions from a fuel cell reaction other than electricity are water and heat, which make thermal management more important. Low temperatures could cause water in the system to freeze, while the heat from the reaction could lead to an increased risk of overheating in warmer environments.

How Do Fuel Cell Technologies Manage Temperatures?

These concerns outline how crucial it is to manage fuel cell temperatures. With 18 million electric vehicles projected to be on the roads by 2030, addressing thermal management is growing increasingly pressing, too. Thankfully, there are several ways to manage these temperature ranges safely.

The heat from fuel cell reactions is relatively low compared to waste heat from combustion engines. However, it provides enough warmth to stop water from freezing in the power system, preventing maintenance issues in freezing weather.

Many FCEVs feature large air intakes to provide passive cooling to their fuel cells, preventing heat-related performance problems. Heat sinks and cooling plates, which dissipate heat and provide low-power circulation, can compound these benefits, ensuring fuel cells work in even extreme weather conditions.

As technology advances, new temperature management systems emerge, too. Research has found that active systems that detect and respond to changing temperatures are effective at maintaining ideal temperatures for both fuel cells and batteries.

Fuel Cells Need Reliable Thermal Management

Extreme temperatures pose a threat to any technology, not just fuel cells. While hydrogen systems may have narrower operating ranges than some other, more conventional technologies, they’re not so extreme as to be unreliable in everyday life.

Thermal management for fuel cells is a crucial concern, but one that modern technology can adequately address. As this tech advances, fuel cells and their temperature moderation systems will only become more efficient. Addressing these issues is an important step in fuel cell development but not necessarily a roadblock to its success. 

Read the most up to date Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Industry news at FuelCellsWorks

About the Author
Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh, Contributor

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Jane covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, green technology, renewable energy and more.

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