Electrochemical evaluation of new materials in polymer electrolyte fuel cells

Abstract: Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC) convert the chemical energy in hydrogen to electrical energy and heat, with the only exhaust being water. Fuel cells are considered key in achieving a sustainable energy sector. The main obstacles to wide scale commercialization are cost and durability. The aim of this thesis is to evaluate new materials for PEFC to potentially lower cost and increase durability. To lower the amount of expensive platinum catalyst in the fuel cell, the activities of Pt-rare earth metal (REM) alloy catalysts have been tested. To improve the lifetime of the carbon support, the carbon corrosion properties of multi walled carbon nanotubes have been evaluated. To reduce the overall cost of fuel cell stacks, carbon coated and metal coated bipolar plates have been tested. To increase the performance and lifetime of anion exchange membranes, the water transport has been studied.The results show that the Pt-REM catalysts had at least two times higher specific activity than pure platinum, and even higher activities should be obtainable if the surface structures are further refined.Multi-walled carbon nanotubes had lower carbon corrosion than conventional carbon Vulcan XC-72. However, once severely corroded their porous structure collapsed, causing major performance losses.The carbon coated metallic bipolar plates showed no significant increase of internal contact resistance (ICR) by cycling, suggesting that these coatings are stable in fuel cells. The NiMo- and NiMoP coated bipolar plates showed low ICR, however, presence of the coated bipolar plates caused secondary harmful effects on the polymer membrane and ionomer.Considering the water transport through anion exchange membranes it was found that most membranes showed very similar water transport properties, with more water detected at both the anode and cathode when a current was applied. The most significant factor governing the water transport properties was the membrane thickness, with thicker membranes reducing the backflow of water from anode to cathode.The results indicate that all of the new tested materials have the capability to improve the lifetime and reduce cost and thereby improve the overall performance of PEFC.