An Environmental Sensor Array continuously monitors air intake for harmful contaminants to protect and react to conditions detrimental to fuel cell performance and longevity.


Fuel cells use oxygen from the air to generate energy so they are susceptible to damage from contaminants in the environment. A device developed at the University of Hawaii's Hawaii Natural Energy Institute can be integrated into any stationary or mobile fuel cell platform to continuously monitor air quality intake in real time and inform the fuel cell control system of dangerous environmental conditions to protect the fuel cell from harmful contaminants.

The Environmental Sensor Array (ESA) system creates a "smart" fuel cell capable of sensing and reacting to changing environmental conditions that can be detrimental to fuel cell performance and longevity. The ESA can protect and control the capability of fuel cells operating in harsh environmental conditions to extend the lifetime of the fuel cell. Electrochemical and environmental sensors monitor real-time environmental conditions (temperature, pressure, relative humidity) and air contaminant concentration, pre- and post-air filter, and pre-programmed software control system protocols implement protective shutdown mode when atmospheric conditions threaten the health of the fuel cell. The system also estimates onboard filter use in real-time using environmental data collected to provide a continuous estimate of remaining lifetime of the onboard air filter.

The ESA system could be used in material handling equipment, buses, and off-road heavy-duty vehicles in mining, construction, and agriculture industries where there are high levels of ambient air contamination.

Key Benefits

• Protects fuel cell power plant from air contaminant exposure

• Extends the lifetime and reliability of the fuel cell

• Increases the longevity, reliability and effectiveness of fuel cell powered vehicles

• Decreases operational, maintenance and replacement costs of fuel cell stacks, air filters and spare parts that can be expensive, time-consuming and put vehicles out of service for extended periods of time

• Improves fuel cell technology integration


• Heavy-duty vehicles in the mining, construction, and agriculture industries

• Material handling equipment

• Light-duty electric fuel cell vehicles

• Stationary fuel cell back-up systems in industrial applications

• Already in use in Fuel Cell Electric Buses (FCEB) in the County of Hawai'i public transportation fleet

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