In this project we developed conductive thermoplastic resins by adding varying amounts of three different carbon fillers: carbon black (CB), synthetic graphite (SG) and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (CNT) to a polypropylene matrix for application as fuel cell bipolar plates. This component of fuel cells provides mechanical support to the stack, circulates the gases that participate in the electrochemical reaction within the fuel cell and allows for removal of the excess heat from the system.
The materials fabricated in this work were tested to determine their mechanical and thermal properties. These materials were produced by adding varying amounts of single carbon fillers to a polypropylene matrix (2.5 to 15 wt.% Ketjenblack EC-600 JD carbon black, 10 to 80 wt.% Asbury Carbons' Thermocarb TC-300 synthetic graphite, and 2.5 to 15 wt.% of Hyperion Catalysis International's FIBRIL™ multi-walled carbon nanotubes) In addition, composite materials containing combinations of these three fillers were produced.
The thermal conductivity results showed an increase in both through-plane and in-plane thermal conductivities, with the largest increase observed for synthetic graphite. The Department of Energy (DOE) had previously set a thermal conductivity goal of 20 W/m·K, which was surpassed by formulations containing 75 wt.% and 80 wt.% SG, yielding in-plane thermal conductivity values of 24.4 W/m·K and 33.6 W/m·K, respectively. In addition, composites containing 2.5 wt.% CB, 65 wt.% SG, and 6 wt.% CNT in PP had an in-plane thermal conductivity of 37 W/m·K.
Flexural and tensile tests were conducted. All composite formulations exceeded the flexural strength target of 25 MPa set by DOE. The tensile and flexural modulus of the composites increased with higher concentration of carbon fillers. Carbon black and synthetic graphite caused a decrease in the tensile and flexural strengths of the composites. However, carbon nanotubes increased the composite tensile and flexural strengths.
Mathematical models were applied to estimate through-plane and in-plane thermal conductivities of single and multiple filler formulations, and tensile modulus of single-filler formulations. For thermal conductivity, Nielsen's model yielded accurate thermal conductivity values when compared to experimental results obtained through the Flash method. For prediction of tensile modulus Nielsen's model yielded the smallest error between the predicted and experimental values.
The second part of this project consisted of the development of a curriculum in Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies to address different educational barriers identified by the Department of Energy. By the creation of new courses and enterprise programs in the areas of fuel cells and the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, we introduced engineering students to the new technologies, policies and challenges present with this alternative energy. Feedback provided by students participating in these courses and enterprise programs indicate positive acceptance of the different educational tools. Results obtained from a survey applied to students after participating in these courses showed an increase in the knowledge and awareness of energy fundamentals, which indicates the modules developed in this project are effective in introducing students to alternative energy sources.