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Elucidating two-phase transport in a polymer electrolyte fuel cell, Part 1: Characterizing flow regimes with a dimensionless group


This paper explores the through-/in-plane characteristics of water transport in the cathode gas diffusion layer (GDL) of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC). Theoretical analysis is performed on the non-isothermal two-phase flow under flow channels. A dimensionless group Da (Damkohler number for PEFC operation), defined as the ratio of water generation rate to water vapor-phase removal rate, is formulated to characterize the flow regimes in a PEFC. This group, lumping geometrical parameters and physical properties, compares the water vapor-phase removal capability (via water diffusion and holding capacity) with the rate of water production by the oxygen reduction reaction. We find that this dimensionless group can be used to characterize the non-isothermal, two-phase phenomena: when Da→0, the fuel cell is subjected to single-phase operation; while as Da→ we have full two-phase operation. A more precise expression is explored for the dimensionless group at the channel central line, i.e. Da0: when Da0>1 the entire cathode GDL-CL (catalyst layer) interface is in two-phase region, whereas part of the interface is free of liquid water for Da0<1. The latter scenario is the concept that this paper proposes for improving fuel cell water management: the consequent co-occurrence of single- and two-phase flows in the in-plane direction at Da0<1 is beneficial to avoid severe dryout and flooding. A two-phase transport model, describing the water and heat transport on the PEFC cathode side, is employed to perform a two-dimensional numerical study. Detailed liquid and temperature distributions are displayed. Simulation predictions are in reasonably good agreement with the dimensionless-group analysis. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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