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CFD Powers Fuel Cell Development
Posted Fri October 25, 2002 @01:20PM
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Application Since the introduction of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to automotive engineering in the late seventies, this sophisticated technology has developed to become mainstream in almost all areas of vehicle design from aerodynamics to fuel injection. The complex CFD codes developed for these applications are now being applied in the development of fuel cell technology.

In the few years since CFD techniques were first used in fuel cell research, the advances in fuel cell technology have been marked. Nearly all the major automotive manufacturers are developing variants and preparing them for entry into the commercial market. Fuel cell technology is generally regarded as the most promising candidate to replace the internal combustion engine because of its potential for fuel efficiency and cleanliness; hydrogen and oxygen power the cells and they release only water.

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Fuel cells work through an electrochemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity, heat and water. CFD allows engineers to simulate the energy, mass and heat transfer processes involved. Using CFD it is possible to develop and optimize the configuration of the fuel cell with respect to energy efficiency, which can help with the crucial water management of the system .

University of South Carolina (USC) is at the forefront of fuel cell research and has several of the major automotive manufacturers as its sponsors. They work in close collaboration with the CD adapco Group, developers of STAR-CD, an advanced CFD code. CD adapco Groupís engineers explain "With the internal combustion engine, methods exist to simulate the flow of multiple reactants. However, in fuel cells you have the extra electrochemical component, for which you need to add a charge conservation equation."

Using STAR-CD, the scientists at the USC in collaboration with engineers at the CD adapco Group have tackled this challenging task successfully. The implementation of a full fuel cell model in STAR-CD is a major achievement, some way ahead of other research centers in this field. "The progress has been tremendous and at this point a large number of fuel cell problems can already be addressed by CFD. CFD is now such a well-established technology that we can tap into existing expertise around the world rather than starting from scratch. This has greatly accelerated recent progress".

Looking into the future, both CD adapco Group and USC believe that fuel cell design will become more and more important to CFD companies. Riaz Sanatian, Automotive Industry Sector Manager of the CD adapco Group says "There are clear signs that fuel cell technology is going to provide a viable, clean and efficient alternative to the traditional IC engine, and CFD should be able to significantly contribute to the acceleration of this transition over the next few years."

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Velocity prediction
Velocity field predictions in the fuel cell.

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