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Composites research fuel innovative application

Connect, no. 153, March/April 2008, p.1


Composites are gaining popularity in industry for a number of reasons, such as good mechanical strength, electrical insulation properties, resistance to corrosion and ease of use.

Composite sandwich panels consist of discrete materials bonded together to form a board or panel. They are generally made up of two outer skins with a core material positioned between them. In some cases, multiple core materials maybe used and skin materials may be incorporated between the outer skins.

Now there is an additional requirement to add value, as most industry sectors are looking for ways to improve their products by incorporating additional functionality.

TWI has now developed a mechanism (patent applied for, see PCT publication no. WO2007036705) which enables composite sandwich panels to be formed with integral fuel cells thus providing power to structures containing them.

This approach removes many of the drawbacks associated with current methods of combining proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) with laminate or sandwich structures, for example by eliminating the need for complex housing design. Integrating the PEMFC into a sandwich structure helps prevent the damage or loss of fuel cell functionality when assembling the stack and enables the construction of complex field flow plates to achieve good gas transfer to the electrodes by specific machined channels in the composite laminate.

TWI has a long history of innovation in joining technology in both the fuel cell and composites fields and is now in need of partners to take this to market. The initial feasibility study has shown that a very simple single device embedded into a composite can provide power similar to a 1.5 volt battery.

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