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Environmental testing is critical to cleantech commercial success

Dr Toby Astill, NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation

The Advanced Testing and Validation Centre at the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Vancouver, British Columbia provides a specialized environment for objective, reliable and accurate standardized performance characterization and long-term testing applications of hydrogen, fuel cell, and other clean energy technologies in real-world conditions.

Testing and validation

More than ever before, objective testing and validation of technologies such as those found in clean energy systems are required to help address challenging technological issues, certify products for use, and help bring products to world markets faster. This involves demonstrating and validating technologies under highly specific and variable operating conditions.

A varied suite of test apparatus is required to allow the required scale of testing, from benchtop testing to environmental testing of full systems, even vehicles, in conditions ranging from the harsh winters in the Canadian Northwest Territories to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon.

IdaTech systems tested for India

Testing conducted by the National Research Council Canada (NRC) on behalf of IdaTech (Bend, Oregon) and their Burnaby, British Columbia-based supplier Ballard Power Systems last summer illustrates how testing conditions can be tailored to meet the precise requirements demanded of a product under development.

IdaTech’s backup telecommunication fuel cell ElectraGenTM H2 generators produce electric power using polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells manufactured by Ballard Power Systems. IdaTech needed to test the generators under real-world conditions, to demonstrate the robustness of the product and identify any improvements necessary before deployment in the field.

Testing was also required by IdaTech’s client in India, ACME Tele Power, to certify that the technology would meet its specifications. To meet these requirements, the generators were put through a series of temperature, altitude and humidity tests that replicated conditions the generators might encounter while operating in India and during transportation from Canada.

The tests were conducted at NRC’s Advanced Testing and Validation Centre (ATVC), located on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver. The ATVC provides the ability to test products under a range of environmental conditions, including altitude (10 000 ft/3000 m), humidity (5 to 95 percent RH), and temperature (–60°C to +140°C). The test chamber is also hydrogen-safe, which makes it a natural fit for local fuel cell companies.

Flexibility of the test chamber

The flexibility of the ATVC is also evident with test conditions tailored for development in both electric drivetrain and liquefied natural gas (LNG) technologies. Azure Dynamics and Westport Innovations have configured the ATVC test chamber to accommodate their vehicles for product development.

‘Having the facility so close to our engineering center has allowed testing flexibility that wouldn’t be possible at a remote site,’ comments Westport’s senior product engineer, Tim Lennox. ‘The facility has been a valuable development tool that will help us provide customers with a robust natural gas fuel system for their trucks, regardless of the climate.’

As a result, technologies can be tested quickly, enabling companies to release their next-generation products to the clean energy market more quickly.

As niche and mass market opportunities open up for the fuel cell and clean energy solutions being pioneered by BC companies, objective testing and validation services become an increasingly critical component of commercial success. The ATVC aims to meet the increasing demands for such services.

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Energy storage including Fuel cells