In this tech talk, Steven had the pleasure of discussing about the process of chemical etching for bipolar plates for fuel cell and electrolyzer applications with Aurelia Montoya, Process Engineer, Elcon Precision.
Learn about chemical etching for bipolar plates
Steven Oji and Aurelia discusses about the advantages and process of chemical etching for bipolar plates. The etching process includes material selection, cleaning, lamination, digital imaging, developing, etching, stripping, and inspection. Etching advantages like low tooling costs, design flexibility, and precise features are highlighted. The conversation covers cost factors, hazardous chemical waste handling, and the industry’s evolving trends, such as increased complexity, larger format plates, factory automation, and growing demand for bipolar plates in fuel cell and electrolyzer technologies.
Material selection constitutes the initial phase, requiring metals with electrical conductivity and etchability such as aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel. Cleaning, a pivotal step, readies the metal surface for subsequent processes through immersion in degreasing and acidic solutions. Lamination follows, enveloping the metal in protective photosensitive film, pivotal for transferring the desired image during the subsequent digital imaging stage. The technique of digital imaging employs UV light to print the targeted pattern onto the laminated surface. Developing then serves to dissolve the unexposed film using a mild alkaline solution, revealing the pattern to be etched.
Etching, the crux of the process, deploys corrosive chemicals that selectively dissolve the unprotected metal, thus creating the desired features. The complexity of this process lies in controlling the etching speed and pressure to ensure uniformity and prevent unintended holes. Stripping of the remaining film marks a transition, as the etched plate emerges without protective layers. Inspection caps the process, involving optical tools to measure crucial features like channel depth and width.
The conversation navigates hazardous chemical handling, underscoring strict regulations and meticulous waste management protocols in place to ensure environmental safety.
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