Pore Network Modeling of Gas Diffusion Layer As a Support to Better Understand Water Management in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells

Sunday, October 11, 2015: 14:00
Regency D (Hyatt Regency)


PEMFC (Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells) is considered as a promising solution for producing clean energy. To increase its industrial development for automotive application, performance and durability are still to be improved and cost needs to be reduced.

Water management is one of the most important remaining bottlenecks to increase performance and durability of PEMFC. Nevertheless, despite numerous studies, many questions remain open and for instance it is not possible yet to propose reliable optimization of the porous layers (Gas Diffusion Layer, Active Layer…) to optimize transfers (and especially water management) in the MEA and thus increase performance and durability. One main reason is that water transfers in the MEA, and also the link between structural properties of these layers and performance, are not correctly described and understood. For instance, classical modeling used in PEMFC do not account for these structural properties despite the fact that they have a huge influence on performance.

More descriptive modeling approaches have been proposed in the last years to better understand the link between structural properties of these layers and transfers in the MEA. Amongst those, Pore Network Modeling (PNM) is more and more applied to GDL. This approach, classically used for soil application, allows simulating two-phase flows in porous media taking into account local properties (Pore/Throat Size Distribution, local structure, local wettability…) which is an important progress compared to classical PEMFC modeling based on Darcy approach.

This keynote lecture focuses on PNM and its application to GDL to better understand (gas and liquid) transfers in the MEA and to try and link local structural properties of GDL to the performance of PEMFC. Experimental results are presented all along the discussion either to validate the main hypothesis or to validate the PNM simulations.

After a description of the PNM approach, two-phase transfers inside GDL are discussed: influence of wettability, thickness, local structure…; study of GDL degradation; role of the Micro Porous Layer (MPL); validity of classical Darçy “laws”… The two classical scenarii of water transfers in the GDL (liquid injection and/or condensation) are also discussed. The coupling between PNM and performance model, which is a step towards upscaling of PNM, is introduced by the analysis of performance loss of PEMFC as a function of hydrophobicity loss of GDL. Advanced results comparing two-phase PNM based on real 3D images of GDL and X-Ray tomography of liquid pattern inside the GDL are also presented as a step towards even more representative PNM modeling of MEA components.

Finally it is shown how PNM can be extended to the Active Layers by coupling two-phase transfers to charge transfers by electrochemistry.