Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells: Characterization and Diagnostics

Tuesday, 7 October 2014: 16:20
Sunrise, 2nd Floor, Star Ballroom 5 (Moon Palace Resort)
S. Dhanushkodi, M. Schwager, and W. Mérida (Clean Energy Research Centre, University of British Columbia)
The normal operation of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) can induce significant temperature, humidity, pressure or concentration gradients across the cell’s active area. The overall performance and stability can be affected negatively by these gradients. For example, localized transient changes in environmental conditions may contribute to material degradation, and ultimately, to cell failure.

We report on new diagnostic techniques and methodologies that have been developed to characterise PEMFC material properties, and the inhomogeneities across the active area of a working cell. Specifically, we will describe ex situ techniques for membrane electrode assembly (MEA) materials characterisation, and in situ techniques for the spatially resolved characterization of PEMFC performance. These techniques incorporate independent control over local potentials with concurrent membrane water content characterization (via high-frequency resistance measurements). Our testing hardware features sixteen fully isolated segments over a 42 cm2 active area, reference electrode capabilities, and individual segment control. This configuration enables  the measurement of localised anode and cathode overpotentials separately.

The technique’s versatility will be illustrated by effective platinum surface area (EPSA) measurements across the active under accelerated stress tests (ASTs) conducive to platinum dissolution. Each segment in a membrane electrode assembly was exposed to 10,000 cycles of Pt dissolution AST separately. The beginning-of-life EPSA was calculated via cyclic voltammetry, and the catalyst layer morphology and properties were found to change during the AST.  Impedance measurements were obtained in H2/N2 conditions in order to map the ionic conductivity and the polarization resistance of the catalyst layer across the segmented cell. Higher EPSA and performance loss were observed in segments near the fuel cell outlet compared to those near the reactant inlets.