By Hyun Jin Cho
Sustainability Management Team
Kia Motors Corporation
The whole world is reeling from the effects of the global recession. For the global economy, it’s already ‘winter’ and the winter cold (here in Korea, anyways) has just begun. Still, we can’t just stay curled up and avoid the chill as there’s much to do before spring arrives. Only those who are prepared will be able to welcome the new season.
Much of the efforts made by automakers to prepare for the new season is centered around environmentally friendly cars. Even companies facing very tough times have expressed their intent to invest more in developing green vehicles. They are driven by the faith that innovative, eco-friendly cars will stir up a warm breeze.
Kia Motors is continuing its own efforts to usher in a new spring. Among those activities, I would like to talk about the creation of a system to assess the performance of hydrogen fuel cells.
The system was set up jointly with Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) in November in the neutron radiography facility (NRF) of Hanaro, a nuclear reactor developed for research purpose. An environment is created in which a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), which has high energy conversion efficiency and is environmentally friendly, generates electricity in much the same way it would when a car is being driven. The system then makes real-time observations of what happens inside the fuel cell using the neutron imaging technique.
PEMFC is a kind of fuel cell that produces electricity from an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Chemical energy is directly converted into electrical energy, rather than thermal. This results in high efficiency with virtually no pollution. Complicated water management is vital to enhancing the performance of PEMFC. Performance will weaken notably if too much or too little water is generated during the electricity production process, and an efficient cooling channel must be set up to prevent performance loss caused by heat during the operation of the fuel cell.
The neutron imaging technique is the only method for directly observing what happens inside a fuel cell which is covered by a metal membrane. The neutron image produced by the fuel cell observation system will accurately reveal the amount and distribution of water inside the fuel cell. This should help with efforts to optimize the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen and adjust the amount of humidity, temperature and pressure when injecting hydrogen and oxygen. That, in turn, will lead to enhanced performance and design of fuel cells.
This is the fourth time that a system like this has been developed to verify fuel cell performance using a nuclear reactor. The others were set up in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Penn State University (PSU) of the U.S. and Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) of Switzerland.
Another major step has been made toward the introduction of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Such steps will bring us closer to the day when zero emissions cars become common sights on our roads.