Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at Gaithersburg, Maryland are using a new neutron imaging station to look into hydrogen fuel cells at the microscopic level. Water management is critical for proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells in extremely hot or cold climates and the new research station can help track the water flow through the fuel cells.
Just this year, Honda announced that they have developed a fuel cell that will start in sub-zero temperatures. DaimlerChrysler has also developed a fuel cell with similar capabilities. Some of the other manufacturers are trying to play catch up.
The new neutron research station is similar to a CAT scan machine combined with a video camera as it can take photos that are smaller than 1 microgram (millionth of a gram) at 30 frames per second. The imaging station, which has already taken 3-dimensional situ tomographic images of an operating fuel cell, is uniquely suited to tracking hydrogen as the projected neutron particles interact strongly with hydrogen but not with other surrounding atoms.
The imaging station has been developed by a partnership among NIST, the Department of Energy and General Motors.