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OpenFCST - Open Source Fuel Cell Simulation Toolbox

What is OpenFCST?

The Open Fuel Cell Simulation Toolbox (OpenFCST) is an open-source mathematical modelling package for polymer electrolyte fuel cells. FCST builds on top of the open-source finite element libraries deal.II, therefore many of its requirements in terms of operating systems and such are the same as for deal.II. OpenFCST is distributed under the MIT License and has been developed as a modular toolbox from which you can develop your own applications. It contains a database of physical phenomena equations, fuel cell layers and materials, and kinetics mathematical models. In addition, it already contains several applications that allow you to simulate different fuel cell components. For example, you can simulate a cathode electrode (using either a macrohomogeneous or an ionomer-filled agglomerate model), an anode electrode, or a complete membrane electrode assembly. The applications are already provided in OpenFCST and they have been validated with respect to experimental data in the literature as well as numerical results from other models implemented in commercial packages.

OpenFCST is being developed at the Energy Systems Design Laboratory at the University of Alberta in collaboration with the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation Corp. that, together with the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, has provided the majority of the funding required to develop this code. The goal of OpenFCST is that research groups in academia and in industry use the current toolbox to better understand fuel cells and to develop new physics and material databases that can then be integrated in the current library.

Getting OpenFCST

OpenFCST can be either downloaded from the OpenFCST website or copied from the developers' GitHub repository. If you are a user, the easiest way to get the code is via the website. Go to Downloads section and download a .tar file with the source code. You are then ready to install OpenFCST.

If you are using Git, please follow instructions in GitHub for checking out a copy. If you want to modify openFCST, then please follow the steps below.

Creating a new branch

The development branch of OpenFCST is located in a private Bitbucket repository. In order to access it, please contact Marc Secanell.

Committing changes to the development branch is not allowed. A pull request of your own branch is necessary. Every user can create their own branch of openFCST. The recommended convention for branch usage is that each user creates their branch for each issue in openFCST they would like to address. The naming convention is: username/issue_name. For example, if the user "secanell" wants to create an issue to fix a bug on postprocessing, the branch would be named secanell/postprocessing.

Users can either create a branch in their own machines and then push it to Bitbucket or create the branch directly on Bitbucket. If the branch is created in Bitbucket, then, in order to checkout the branch to the appropriate machine, the user needs to issue the following command:

git fetch && git checkout username/issue_name

If the branch is created in the local repository first using git checkout -b branch_name, then you can commit it to the remote Bitbucket server with git push -u origin branch_name. The -u flag means that from now on your branch branch_name will track the branch in Bitbucket.

Adding, changing, staging, comitting and pushing

Once the branch is created, users can work on that branch for as long as it is needed. Users can make changes and commit the changes to their local respository using:

git add file_name
git commit -m "message about commit"

Please DO NOT use git add * or git add -u as you then have little control over what you are staging to be committed. Using git status, you can see which files have been changed so that you can add them as appropriate.

To push the changes to Bitbucket, you can use:

git push origin branch_name

Request for branch to be merged into development

Once you have finished fixing the issue you created the branch for, you need to follow these three steps:

  1. Update your origin information using: git remote update (this will update all your local information regarding the branches on Bitbucket).
  2. Merge your branch with the latest version of development using: git merge origin/development. This is VERY important. The administrators will not accept any pull requests that have not been fast-forwarded to the origin/development branch.
  3. Issue a pull request in Bitbucket.

There are three main branches:

  • Master branch: Stable version of OpenFCST (no pull requests will be accepted to this branch)
  • Development branch: The most up-to-date version of OpenFCST, personal branches should be started from this branch and all pull requests should be submitted to this branch
  • Release branch: Branch containing the latest release of openFCST

Workflow for new development

If you want to develop new code, please follow this steps:

  • Clone the repository using git clone
  • Create a new branch related to the new component/issue you would like to work on using git checkout -b name_branch. Note: The command above will create a branch named "name_branch" and will checkout that branch so you are ready to work.
  • Once you are done with the development, create a pull request to merge your branch to the development branch. Note: Merges to Master will be rejected without review.

A reminder: when developing code, please work in Debug mode and test in both Debug and Release modes before issuing a pull request.

Installing OpenFCST


OpenFCST is developed in a Linux operating system using the GNU GCC compiler. It uses our own CMake scripts and the contributing libraries' CMake scripts, such as the deal.II script, to configure and compile the library. It supports at least the following platforms:

  1. OpenSUSE 12.3, 13.1, LEAP 42.1, Tumbleweed
  2. Ubuntu 14.04, 16.04

The following software needs to be installed on your computer in order for OpenFCST to compile (make sure to have the development versions of the packages as well):

  1. CMake
  2. GNU Make and C++11 support
  3. GCC version 4.7 or later (4.8.1 recommended)
  4. BLAS and LAPACK libraries (blas-devel and lapack-devel)
  5. OpenMPI compiler
  6. GNU gfortran compiler
  7. Bison
  8. qt4-designer and libqt4 (libqt4-devel if qt4-designer is not available)
  9. For generating the documentation: DOxygen and Sphinx
  10. Boost; the specific packages are iostreams, serialization, system, thread, filesystem, regex, signals, program_options
  11. FLEX (for Dakota)
  12. Python Packages: SciPy, NumPy, ipython, Sphinx, evtk, vtk, mayavi
  13. libconfig-devel and libconfig++-devel
  14. patch

OpenFCST comes with all required libraries except the optimization library Dakota from Sandia National Labs (version 5.4_r2206). You can either download and install it yourself, place tar files in the appropriate folder (specified below) following OpenFCST naming convention (specified below), or allow OpenFCST to download them for you if you have an Internet connection.

Configuring and installing OpenFCST

To help with configuring OpenFCST with CMake, we provide a configuration script openFCST_install.

For a typical installation, go to the openfcst/ folder, and enter the following:

$./openFCST_install --cores=<number of cores> --install-dir=path_for_installation_directory

where the variable --cores allows you to compile the program using multiple cores and --install-dir allows you to specify the installation directory where openFCST will be installed. By default, openFCST will create a Build and Install folder in the same directory as the src folder. Inside the openfcst/ folder, two new folders will appear:

  • Install
  • Build

The folder Install contains the installation of the code. It contains a /bin folder, where you will find the executable files for OpenFCST, fuel_cell-2d.bin and fuel_cell-3d.bin for 2D and 3D simulations, and the GUI file,**fcst_gui**. It also contains the folder examples, where you will find several tutorials on how to run openFCST. The folder doc contains the HTML documentation for developers. The Build folder is the folder where all object files needed during compilation are installed. Users can ignore this folder.

If you are using any of your own pre-installed packages, please consult the src/README for more information on any necessary changes that need to be made. For more options and information about the installation script, type:

$./openFCST_install --help

Getting started

See the user guide in src/doc/RefGuide/User_Guide.pdf. To launch a sample cathode simulation, go to the installation folder Install and source the environment script. Then go to examples/cathode/analysis and execute the 2D fcst binary:

cd YourInstallDir
source ./
cd example/cathode/analysis
fcst2D main.prm

This will run a cathode simulation with the simulation data parameters specified in data.prm.

Known issues


No mpicc found

If, after running installation script, OpenFCST reports that mpicc cannot be found, execute


then logout and login again. This is a known issue of openmpi package.

"C compiler cannot create executables"

If you are installing OpenFCST with PETSc and p4est fails to install with an error "C compiler cannot create executables", perform the same operation with mpi-selector-menu as above.

PETSc error "Could not find a functional BLAS/LAPACK"

If OpenFCST fails to install with PETSc with an error "Could not find a functional BLAS/LAPACK", install blas-devel and lapack-devel packages.

mpif90 error in OpenSUSE LEAP

If you are using OpenSUSE LEAP, you might face an error during installation of OpenFCST that says "...mpif90 is not able to compile a simple test program". In case that happens, install gcc-fortran package with its dependencies.

Running simulations

Error "While reading VTK file, unknown file type encountered"

This error may appear when you are trying to run an application that needs to read a 3D .vtk mesh, but you only have a 2D binary compiled (or vice versa). Compile the code for the required dimension of the problem using the flag


where X is 1 for both 2D and 3D, 2 for 2D, and 3 for 3D.


Please see the file src/LICENSE or doc/LICENSE for details.

Further information

Visit the OpenFCST website.