Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-11-10 14:10:09
  • Article ID: 685023

Fuel Cell X-Ray Study Details Effects of Temperature and Moisture on Performance

Experiments at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source help scientists shed light on fuel-cell physics

  • Credit: Berkeley Lab

    An X-ray study revealed the size and distribution of tiny pockets of water in fibrous fuel-cell components at different temperatures.

  • Credit: Berkeley Lab

    Temperature-controlled X-ray experiments on fuel-cell components were conducted at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (bottom left) and Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source (bottom right). The computer renderings (top) show the specialized sample holder, which included a heating element near the top and cooling coils at the base.

  • Credit: Berkeley Lab

    Water clusters in sample fuel-cell components shrink over time in this sequence of images, produced by a 3-D imaging technique known as micro X-ray computed tomography. The water clusters were contained in a fibrous membrane that was exposed to different temperatures. The mean temperature began at about 104 degrees Fahrenheit and was gradually increased to about 131 degrees Fahrenheit. The top side of the images was the hotter side of the sample, and the bottom of the images was the colder side.

Like a well-tended greenhouse garden, a specialized type of hydrogen fuel cell – which shows promise as a clean, renewable next-generation power source for vehicles and other uses – requires precise temperature and moisture controls to be at its best. If the internal conditions are too dry or too wet, the fuel cell won’t function well.

But seeing inside a working fuel cell at the tiny scales relevant to a fuel cell’s chemistry and physics is challenging, so scientists used X-ray-based imaging techniques at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Argonne National Laboratory to study the inner workings of fuel-cell components subjected to a range of temperature and moisture conditions. 

The research team, led by Iryna Zenyuk, a former Berkeley Lab postdoctoral researcher now at Tufts University, included scientists from Berkeley Lab’s Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division and the Advanced Light Source (ALS), an X-ray source known as a synchrotron.

The ALS lets researchers image in 3-D at high resolution very quickly, allowing them to look inside working fuel cells in real-world conditions. The team created a test bed to mimic the temperature conditions of a working polymer-electrolyte fuel cell that is fed hydrogen and oxygen gases and produces water as a byproduct.

“The water management and temperature are critical,” said Adam Weber, a staff scientist in the Energy Technologies Area at Berkeley Lab and deputy director for a multi-lab fuel cell research effort, the Fuel Cell Consortium for Performance and Durability (FC-PAD).

The study has been published online in the journal Electrochimica Acta.

The research aims to find the right balance of humidity and temperature within the cell, and how water moves out of the cell.

Controlling how and where water vapor condenses in a cell, for example, is critical so that it doesn’t block incoming gases that facilitate chemical reactions.

“Water, if you don’t remove it, can cover the catalyst and prevent oxygen from reaching the reaction sites,” Weber said. But there has to be some humidity to ensure that the central membrane in the cell can efficiently conduct ions.

The research team used an X-ray technique known as micro X-ray computed tomography to record 3-D images of a sample fuel cell measuring about 3 to 4 millimeters in diameter.

“The ALS lets us image in 3-D at high resolution very quickly, allowing us to look inside working fuel cells in real-world conditions,” said Dula Parkinson, a research scientist at the ALS who participated in the study. 

The sample cell included thin carbon-fiber layers, known as gas-diffusion layers, which in a working cell sandwich a central polymer-based membrane coated with catalyst layers on both sides. These gas-diffusion layers help to distribute the reactant chemicals and then remove the products from the reactions.

Weber said that the study used materials that are relevant to commercial fuel cells. Some previous studies have explored how water wicks through and is shed from fuel-cell materials, and the new study added precise temperature controls and measurements to provide new insight on how water and temperature interact in these materials.

Complimentary experiments at the ALS and at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, a synchrotron that specializes in a different range of X-ray energies, provided detailed views of the water evaporation, condensation, and distribution in the cell during temperature changes.

“It took the ALS to explore the physics of this,” Weber said, “so we can compare this to theoretical models and eventually optimize the water management process and thus the cell performance,” Weber said.

The experiments focused on average temperatures ranging from about 95 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperature variations of 60 to 80 degrees (hotter to colder) within the cell. Measurements were taken over the course of about four hours. The results provided key information to validate water and heat models that detail fuel-cell function.

This test cell included a hot side designed to show how water evaporates at the site of the chemical reactions, and a cooler side to show how water vapor condenses and drives the bulk of the water movement in the cell.

While the thermal conductivity of the carbon-fiber layers – their ability to transfer heat energy – decreased slightly as the moisture content declined, the study found that even the slightest degree of saturation produced nearly double the thermal conductivity of a completely dry carbon-fiber layer. Water evaporation within the cell appears to dramatically increase at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers found.

The experiments showed water distribution with millionths-of-a-meter precision, and suggested that water transport is largely driven by two processes: the operation of the fuel cell and the purging of water from the cell.

The study found that larger water clusters evaporate more rapidly than smaller clusters. The study also found that the shape of water clusters in the fuel cell tend to resemble flattened spheres, while voids imaged in the carbon-fiber layers tend to be somewhat football-shaped.

There are also some ongoing studies, Weber said, to use the X-ray-based imaging technique to look inside a full subscale fuel cell one section at a time.

“There are ways to stitch together the imaging so that you get a much larger field of view,” he said. This process is being evaluated as a way to find the origin of failure sites in cells through imaging before and after testing. A typical working subscale fuel cell measures around 50 square centimeters, he added.

Other researchers participating in this study were from Tufts University, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the National Science Foundation.

The Advanced Light Source and the Advanced Photon Source are DOE Office of Science User Facilities that are open to visiting scientists from around the U.S. and world.

# # #

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Out of Thin Air

Argonne researchers conducted basic science computational studies as part of a collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago to design a "beyond-lithium-ion" battery cell that operates by running on air over many charge and discharge cycles. The design offers energy storage capacity about three times that of a lithium-ion battery, with significant potential for further improvements.

COSMIC Impact: Next-Gen X-ray Microscopy Platform Now Operational

COSMIC, a next-generation X-ray beamline now operating at Berkeley Lab, brings together a unique set of capabilities to measure the properties of materials at the nanoscale. It allows scientists to probe working batteries and other active chemical reactions, and to reveal new details about magnetism and correlated electronic materials.

Turning Up the Heat on Remote Research Plots Without Electricity

Flexible, tunable technique warms plants without need for electricity, aiding ecosystem research in remote locales.

Weird Superconductor Leads Double Life

Understanding strontium titanate's odd behavior will aid efforts to develop materials that conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency at higher temperatures.

Engineering Yeast Tolerance to a Promising Biomass Deconstruction Solvent

Chemical genomic-guided engineering of gamma-valerolactone-tolerant yeast.

Beyond the WIMP: Unique Crystals Could Expand the Search for Dark Matter

A new particle detector design proposed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab could greatly broaden the search for dark matter - which makes up 85 percent of the total mass of the universe yet we don't know what it's made of - into an unexplored realm.

20 Percent of Americans Responsible for Almost Half of US Food-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On any given day, 20 percent of Americans account for nearly half of U.S. diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, and high levels of beef consumption are largely responsible, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan and Tulane University.

Saplings Survive Droughts via Storage

Certain species of trees retain stored water, limit root growth to survive three months without water.

Study Reveals New Insights into How Hybrid Perovskite Solar Cells Work

Scientists have gained new insights into a fundamental mystery about hybrid perovskites, low-cost materials that could enhance or even replace conventional solar cells made of silicon.

Want to Clean Up the Environment? Make Credit Easier to Get.

Research by Berkeley Haas Prof. Ross Levine, the Willis H. Booth Chair in Banking and Finance, is the first to show that when lending conditions ease, businesses invest more in projects to cut pollution.

  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Shi Receives Air Force Young Investigator Research Program Award

Jian Shi, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). Shi will use the three-year, $450,000 grant to pursue fundamental research on nanoscale complex materials that could lead to the development of next-generation resilient and high-performance energy conversion and sensing technologies.

Kerstin Kleese van Dam Receives 32nd Town of Brookhaven Annual Women's Recognition Award for Science

The award recognizes the contributions Kleese van Dam--director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative since 2015--has made to scientific computing and data management over the past three decades.

Jefferson Lab Announces New Accelerator Science Leader

The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has announced that Andrei Seryi will become its new associate director for accelerator operations, research and development in June.

First Plasma for New Machine to Study Puzzling Process That Occurs Throughout the Universe

Announcement describes completion of construction of FLARE, a powerful new machine to study magnetic reconnection.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Sun Receives Power Electronics Achievement Award

Jian Sun, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received the 2017 R. David Middlebrook Outstanding Achievement Award from the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS). He was recognized for "contributions to modeling and control of power electronic converters and systems."

FGC Plasma Solutions Wins Top NASA Innovation Award

Argonne Chain Reaction Innovator Felipe Gomez del Campo has received the 2018 NASA iTech award for X-Factor Innovation.

Sandia Researcher Jacqueline Chen Elected to National Academy of Engineering

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Jacqueline Chen, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Chen is among the 99 new members from around the globe in the 2018 class.Election to the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction for an engineer in the United States.

PNNL Helps Form International Energy Storage Organization

News Release DALIAN, China -- Energy storage allows power operators across the nation to balance electricity supply and demand instantaneously, affording ratepayers a more resilient power supply.Now the focus on energy storage is global. In January, energy storage experts at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory joined forces with their counterparts around the world to forge the International Coalition for Energy Storage and Innovation, or ICESI.

University Partnership to Help Nevada Scientists Commercialize Discovery

UNLV's Office of Technology Transfer and the Desert Research are partnering to help faculty and students leverage each other's talent and resources to transform inventions into new products and services.

DOE Seeks Industry Partners for HPC Research on Materials in Applied Energy Technologies

The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a funding opportunity totaling $3 million to support projects between U.S. industry and DOE national laboratories related to improving materials in severe or complex environments through the new High Performance Computing for Materials in Applied Energy Technologies (HPC4Mtls) Program.

  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Turning Up the Heat on Remote Research Plots Without Electricity

Flexible, tunable technique warms plants without need for electricity, aiding ecosystem research in remote locales.

Engineering Yeast Tolerance to a Promising Biomass Deconstruction Solvent

Chemical genomic-guided engineering of gamma-valerolactone-tolerant yeast.

Saplings Survive Droughts via Storage

Certain species of trees retain stored water, limit root growth to survive three months without water.

Unlocking On-Package Memory's Effects on High-Performance Computing's Scientific Kernels

Intuitive visual analytical model better explains complex architectural scenarios and offers general design principles.

Data Dive: How Microbes Handle Poor Nutrition in Tropical Soil

High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

The Secret Lives of Cells

Supercomputer simulations predict how E. coli adapts to environmental stresses.

It's Not Part of the Problem, but Part of the Solution

Americium(III) is selectively and efficiently separated from europium(III) by an extractant in an ionic liquid.

Buckyball Marries Graphene

Electronic and structure richness arise from the merger of semiconducting molecules of carbon buckyballs and 2-D graphene.

Atomic Movies Explain Why Perovskite Solar Cells Are More Efficient

Tracking atoms is crucial to improving the efficiency of next-generation perovskite solar cells.

Catalysts: High Performance Lies on the Edge

Iron may be more valuable than platinum. Sometimes.


Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago

Tuesday December 07, 2010, 05:00 PM

UC San Diego Installing 2.8 Megawatt Fuel Cell to Anchor Energy Innovation Park

University of California San Diego

Monday November 01, 2010, 12:50 PM

Rensselaer Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center Announces First Deployment of New Technology on Campus

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday September 10, 2010, 12:40 PM

Ithaca College Will Host Regional Clean Energy Summit

Ithaca College

Tuesday July 27, 2010, 10:30 AM

Texas Governor Announces $8.4 Million Award to Create Renewable Energy Institute

Texas Tech University

Friday May 07, 2010, 04:20 PM

Creighton University to Offer New Alternative Energy Program

Creighton University

Wednesday May 05, 2010, 09:30 AM

National Engineering Program Seeks Subject Matter Experts in Energy

JETS Junior Engineering Technical Society

Wednesday April 21, 2010, 12:30 PM

Students Using Solar Power To Create Sustainable Solutions for Haiti, Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Wednesday March 03, 2010, 07:00 PM

Helping Hydrogen: Student Inventor Tackles Challenge of Hydrogen Storage

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday February 04, 2010, 02:00 PM

Turning Exercise into Electricity

Furman University

Thursday November 12, 2009, 12:45 PM

Campus Leaders Showing the Way to a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future

National Wildlife Federation (NWF)

Showing results

0-4 Of 2215