Title page for ETD etd-05042008-161055

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Sole, Joshua David
Author's Email Address jsole@vt.edu
URN etd-05042008-161055
Title Investigation of Water Transport Parameters and Processes in the Gas Diffusion Layer of PEM Fuel Cells
Degree PhD
Department Mechanical Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Ellis, Michael W. Committee Chair
Case, Scott W. Committee Member
Dillard, David A. Committee Member
Nelson, Douglas J. Committee Member
von Spakovsky, Michael R. Committee Member
  • fuel cell
  • water transport
  • two phase flow
  • capillary pressure
  • relative permeability
  • GDL
  • gas diffusion layer
  • PEM
Date of Defense 2008-04-18
Availability unrestricted
Constitutive relationships are developed to describe the water transport characteristics of the gas diffusion layer (GDL) of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). Additionally, experimental fixtures and procedures for the determination of the constitutive relationships are presented. The water transport relationships are incorporated into analytical models that assess the impact of the water transport relations and that make PEMFC performance predictions. The predicted performance is then compared to experimental results.

The new constitutive relationships are significantly different than the currently popular relationships used in PEMFC modeling because they are derived from experiments on actual PEMFC gas diffusion layer materials. In prior work, properties of the GDL materials such as absolute permeability, liquid water relative permeability, porosity, and capillary behavior are often assumed or used as adjustment parameters in PEMFC models to simplify the model or to achieve good fits with polarization data. In this work, the constitutive relations are not assumed but are determined via newly developed experimental techniques.

The experimental fixtures and procedures were used to characterize common GDL materials including carbon papers and carbon cloths, and to investigate common treatments applied to these materials such as the bulk application of a hydrophobic polymer within the porous structure.

A one-dimensional model is developed to contrast results based on the new constitutive relations with results based on commonly used relationships from the PEMFC literature. The comparison reveals that water transport relationships can have a substantial impact on predicted GDL saturation, and consequently a significant impact on cell performance. The discrepancy in saturation between cases can be nearly an order of magnitude. A two-dimensional model is also presented that includes the impact of the compressed GDL region under the shoulder of a bipolar plate. Results show that the compression due to the bipolar plate shoulder causes a significant increase in liquid saturation, and a significant reduction in oxygen concentration and current density for the paper GDL. In contrast, compression under the shoulder has a minimal impact on the cloth GDL. Experimental inputs to the 2-D model include: absolute permeability, liquid water relative permeability, the slope of the capillary pressure function with saturation, total porosity, GDL thickness, high frequency resistance, and appropriate Tafel parameters. Computational polarization curve results are compared to experimental polarization behavior and good agreement is achieved.

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