The Impact of Hydrocarbon and Carbon Oxide Impuritiesin the Hydrogen Feed of a PEM Fuel Cell

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: The proton exchange membrane fuel cell generates electricity from hydrogen and oxygen (from air) through electrocatalytic reactions in an electrochemical cell. The Pt/C catalyst, commonly used in PEM fuel cells, is very sensitive to impurities that can interact with the active catalyst sites and limit fuel cell performance. Unfortunately, most hydrogen is currently produced from fossil sources, and inevitably contains impurities.The subject of this thesis is the effect of hydrogen impurities on the operation of a PEM fuel cell using a Pt/C anode. The impurities studied are carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and selected hydrocarbons. Particular focus is given to the interaction between the impurities studied and the anode catalyst. The main method used in the study involved performing cyclic voltammetry and mass spectrometry, simultaneously. Other electrochemical techniques are also employed.The results show that all the impurities studied adsorb to some extent on the Pt/C catalyst surface, and require potentials comparable to that of CO oxidation, i.e., about 0.6V, or higher to be removed by oxidation to CO2. For complete oxidation of propene, and toluene, potentials of above 0.8, and 1.0V, respectively, are required. The unsaturated hydrocarbons can be desorbed to some extent by reduction, but oxidation is required for complete removal. Adsorption of ethene, propene, and CO2 is dependent on the presence of adsorbed or gaseous hydrogen. Hydrogen inhibits ethene and propene adsorption, but facilitates CO2 adsorption. Adsorption of methane and propane is very limited and high concentrations of methane cause dilution effects only.The adlayer formed on the Pt/C anode catalyst in the presence of CO2, or moderate amounts of hydrocarbons, is found to be insffuciently complete to notably interfere with the hydrogen oxidation reaction. Higher concentrations of toluene do, however, limit the reaction.