Background and Motivation

Prelude to the Open Fuel Cell Project

The origins of the „open fuel cell project“ can be traced back to the beginning of the year 2020. During that time, Burghard and others at the hydrogen and fuel cell center ZBT were granted a “state of the art” research project to develop a new test technology for Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC). Aim of this project with the title “SAFEREF” (AiF/IGF – 53EWN) was to develop a PEMFC with an integrated reference electrode to monitor if the PEMFC is always operated under safe conditions. During this time, an extraordinarily large number of electrolysis and fuel cell projects led to the test stand capacity at ZBT being fully exhausted. If only it would be possible to build a fuel cell test stand on a quite limited budget without sophisticated manufacturing technologies.

Burghard (left) helps students at the Luisenschule in Muelheim operate the OFC. (Image: Luisenschule, May 2023)

Thanks to the recent developments in the area of CAD software, 3D-printers as well as CNC-milling machines it appeared feasible to build a full-fledged fuel cell using “hobby grade” equipment alone. So Burghard, a hobyyist for years, went home and started building. A few months later, all the development work of the SAFEREF project and a Bachelor thesis by Alexandra was conducted on a fuel cell which was almost exclusively build in Burghard’s garage. Soon after, this simple and robust PEMFC has been used to spice up the chemistry lecture at the Luisenschule, a school in Mülheim.

Theresa heard about Burghard and his self-built fuel cell from Adib, a fellow doctoral student at ZBT. Filled with enthusiasm and a firm belief in the value of Burghard’s creation, Theresa was thrilled when Burghard embraced her idea of open sourcing his design.

Join the Open Fuel Cell Initiative

We like to invite you to join us in our new adventure to further develop the existing low cost PEMFC into a real assembly kit that allows you to build your very own PEMFC for your own hands-on experiments. You will definitely obtain lot of experiences covering a wide area involved in the fuel cell technology, starting from the design over the fabrication up to the operation of fuel cells.

Are you new to fuel cells and manufacturing methods like 3D-printing or CNC-milling? Don’t worry! We will give you an introduction into the working principle of the PEMFC as well as that of the fabrication technologies required to produce the components required to assemble a PEMFC. The functionality of every single component of a fuel cell will described as well as the processes and tricks involved to turn the regarding CAD-model into an object.

As with all technical developments: it is never really completed. There is always something to develop – simplifying the cell design even more, finding a new method to speed up the production process or reducing its cost or maybe increasing the electrical performance of the PEMFC itself? Often new ideas and solution come up while actually working with the cell itself and using it in hands on experiments? Maybe it is your experiment? In this case: let the open fuel cell community know about it. Together we will be able to develop just the right variation of the PEMFC for all kinds of educational and research related purposes. Also, if you need help with the fabrication of some components, please do not hesitate to contact us. The membrane electrode assembly (MEA) is one of the components that will or can be supplied by the ZBT.