Vancouver, British Columbia [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Fuel cells have to pass economic and technological muster in a few important areas before they become commercially viable for automobiles. Ballard Power Systems believes it is getting closer to an ideal fuel cell stack, and states that the design doesn’t compromise on performance, something auto aficionados should appreciate.Ballard scientists and engineers have made improvements to the freeze start capability of their 10-cell demonstration cell stack. Water generation is a by-product of fuel cell operation, and managing water within fuel cells presents a substantial challenge in freezing. The company has increased unit durability and reduced production costs of its fuel cells as well. The company’s stack design can start repeatedly from -20 degrees C (-4 degrees F), and operate for more than 2,000 hours at a substantially reduced cost with no performance tradeoff. They also reduced the amount of platinum necessary for the fuel cell by 30 percent. Company engineers employed a drive cycle testing protocol that simulated real world driving, similar to tests used by auto manufacturers today. The protocol included starts, stops, rapid acceleration and deceleration, much harsher than steady state testing. “We achieved a technology hat trick by demonstrating three of the requirements most critical to advancing fuel cells along the path to commercialization,” said Charles Stone, Ballard’s Vice President, Research and Development. “We believe we are the first fuel cell developer to successfully demonstrate these key technology milestones simultaneously in a single fuel cell stack design.” Freeze start capability, increased durability and cost reduction were identified as three of the crucial performance goals set in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) when it launched a $350 million, five-year funding program targeted at making hydrogen-fueled vehicles a commercial reality by 2015.