Dynamic modelling and emulation of a high temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cell (HT PEMFC)

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Fuel cells (FC) are power sources that convert chemical energy into electrical and thermal energy in a clean and efficient manner. In the 21st century, fuel cells appear poised to meet the power demands of a variety of applications, ranging from portable electronics to utility power plants. Compared to systems utilizing fossil fuels, fuel cells offer greater efficiency and superior reliability. In particular, proton exchange membrane FCs (PEMFCs) presents a good alternative energy source for distributed generation (DG) systems. FCs however, have had limited commercial success despite their performance, durability and low environmental impact in comparison to other energy conversion and power generation devices. This lack of success has led to low commercial production levels resulting in high costs. Therefore, an increase in research and development is being conducted with the aim of producing cost effective, more efficient and reliable fuel cells for portable transportation and stationary applications. This dissertation aims to produce an emulator design for a HT PEM FC system. A model is developed that takes into account the steady state and the dynamic characteristics of the fuel cell. The emulator hardware is developed from first principles and tested to evaluate performance under dynamic operating conditions. Phenomena such as polarization curve hysteresis and fuel starvation is investigated, simulated and reproduced with the emulator system. The experimental results are compared with that of an actual HT PEM FC stack and evaluated. It was shown that the final system is able to deliver accurate steady state and transient state outputs when compared with the fuel cell stack. The final design can be used for hardware in the loop applications, specifically for fuel cell power conditioning system development.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 152-157).