Animation – This animated 3-D rendering, generated by an X-ray-based imaging technique at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source, shows tiny pockets of water (blue) in a fibrous sample. The X-ray experiments showed how moisture and temperature can affect the performance of fuel-cell components. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)
Like a well-tended greenhouse garden, a specialized type of hydrogen fuel cell – which shows promise as a clean, renewable next-generation power source for vehicles and other uses – requires precise temperature and moisture controls to be at its best. If the internal conditions are too dry or too wet, the fuel cell won’t function well.
But seeing inside a working fuel cell at the tiny scales relevant to a fuel cell’s chemistry and physics is challenging, so scientists used X-ray-based imaging techniques at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Argonne National Laboratory to study the inner workings of fuel-cell components subjected to a range of temperature and moisture conditions.