Driving fuel cell technology in cars of the future

Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc. partners with Queen’s University to develop greener vehicles.

With a demonstration fleet of B-Class F-Cell vehicles unveiled in 2010, Mercedes-Benz has established itself as a key competitor in this emerging market. The breakthrough came as a result of thousands of hours of research and development into fuel cell technology at Mercedes-Benz’s North American pilot manufacturing plant.

This research was supported in part by partnerships with Canadian universities through Mitacs Accelerate, including an ongoing collaboration with Queen’s University’s Fuel Cell Research Centre. Under direction of Professor Jon Pharoah, two Masters of Mechanical Engineering students recently set out to solve a key manufacturing challenge for the company.

Dr. Caroline R. Cloutier, Application Development Engineer from the Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell Division explains: “We needed to find out exactly when a key material of our fuel cell unit would be ready for manufacturing by examining changes in its properties. Knowing this was important to ensure the longevity and stability of the vehicle’s fuel cell engine.”

We approached Queen’s University because of their unique expertise — an expertise that was not available elsewhere.  It was an opportunity we seized right away.”

Master’s student Anne Moore first set out on the Mitacs Accelerate project in 2014. In collaboration with the Mercedes-Benz R&D team, Anne tested important fuel cell materials under university and industry-scale laboratory conditions in order to understand how the testing methods from her university lab could be replicated under the scaled-up conditions of a fuel cell stack manufacturing site. Her research revealed fundamental properties of the materials that affected manufacturing quality control.

For Anne, working with a globally respected company gave her important work experience: “This project required me to apply a dynamic skill set of leadership, project management, communication, and more in order to meet rigorous time and budget constraints. Working with Mercedes-Benz to advance fuel cell technology was a true privilege, and one that I am proud to have been a part of.”

The results Anne obtained formed the basis of a second project, this time with Mitacs Accelerate intern Philippe Coté.  Drawing from the previous research, Philippe is testing ways to optimize the material at the core of the fuel cell unit by understanding how its physical and chemical properties change to determine when it is ready for use in manufacturing. The combined research produced by Anne and Philippe helped to develop protocols and quality-control standards that will shape the future of fuel cell manufacturing and pushes Mercedes-Benz one step further in the race to unleash hydrogen fuel cell technology to an eager public.

The research has already produced results. The team will be writing scientific papers to submit to fuel cell technology journals and conferences. Caroline, from Mercedes-Benz, states: “The joint publication will also mean that we are contributing to the advancement of fuel cell research for everybody to benefit from. This is a great achievement, and it was made possible because of the talent and dedication of each person at the table.”

What’s more, “Working with Mitacs and Queen’s University has given us a tremendous return on investment. At the end of the day, these students are getting important experience with meeting industrial demands while we are able to tap into their expertise to advance our own objectives.”

Photo at right: Caroline Cloutier from Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc., Fuel Cell Division with Mitacs intern Philippe Coté.
Photos courtesy Thomas Maassen and Vincent Nguyen, Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc., Fuel Cell Division

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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