Donaldson applies cleanroom filter technology to fuel cells

Chris Anderson

MINNEAPOLIS—Donaldson Co. Inc., a leader in filtration systems serving a variety of industries including the cleanroom market, announced in September the first airborne contaminant and noise filtration systems developed especially for use with fuel cells. The products are the first for the company's year-old Fuel Cell Contamination Control (FC3) business unit.

“Intake-air—or cathode-side—filtration is a crucial component for ensuring fuel cell reliability and performance, but it's just now being included as a core subsystem,” says Eivind Stenersen, chief engineer of the Donaldson FC3 business unit. “Ambient air in all corners of the world contains contaminants that can compromise the fuel cell system durability, life and performance. To make the leap from the lab to the marketplace, fuel cells will require particle and chemical filtration of the cathode air.”

The operation of a fuel cell involves no combustion. Rather it relies on converting the chemical energy of hydrogen into DC power while leaving only heat and water as byproducts of the energy conversion. It is anticipated that fuel cells of varying sizes will power everything from cell phones to busses. According to Donaldson, the company is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the market as it looks to leverage its existing filtration and acoustic damping technology on an as yet undefined market.

“Fuels cells aren't available for commercial use, though they will be sometime in the next 12 to 18 months,” says Ric Canepa, director of the FC3 business unit. Still, Donaldson is committed to being there when the market opens and has been working with researchers around the world in the development of fuel cell filters. The FC3 unit currently has overseas offices in Brussels, Belgium and Osaka, Japan.

Domestically, Donaldson has collaborated with fuel cell researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to refine its filters for this specific use. Canepa says Donaldson's relationship with Los Alamos goes back more than 30 years developing filters and noise dampening products for internal combustion engines for military vehicles.

“At first, many thought you could use the same kind of filters used on engines to provide the necessary level of filtration for fuel cells,” Canepa says. “But fuel cells are very sensitive and require filtration for sub-micrometer particles and a variety of gases found in trace amounts in the atmosphere. Our filters allow for more efficient operation and longevity of fuel cells, which will make them a cost-effective power source for many different applications.”

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