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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Understanding the Role of Interfaces for Water Management in Platinum Group Metal-Free Electrodes in Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells


A systematic analysis, both experimental and model-assisted, has been performed over three main configurations of platinum group metal-free (PGM-free) electrodes in polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs): Catalyst-coated membrane CCM technology is being compared to the gas-diffusion electrode (GDE) method of electrode fabrication and juxtaposed to a hybrid/combined GDE-CCM method of membrane-electrode assembly (MEA) fabrication. The corresponding electrodes were evaluated for their electrochemical performance, modeled, and studied with in situ and operando X-ray computed tomography (X-ray CT). The study establishes that through-thickness inhomogeneities play the most important role in water withdrawal/water management and affect most significantly PGM-free PEFC performance. The catalyst integration technique results in formation of interfacial regions with increased porosity and surface roughness. These regions form critical interfaces de facto responsible for flooding type behavior of the PEFC as shown for a first time by operando X-ray CT. The computational model shows that the PEFC performance critically depends on liquid water formation and transport at cold and wet conditions.

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