Abstract This work characterizes the thermal management of a proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) stack with combined passive and active cooling. A 10-cell PEMFC stack with an active area of 100 cm 2 for each cell is constructed. Six thermally conductive 0.1-mm-thick Pyrolytic Graphite Sheets (PGSs) are cut into the shape of flow channels and bound to the six central cathode gas channel plates. These PGSs, which are lightweight and have high thermal conductivity, function as heat spreaders and fins and provide passive cooling in the fuel cell stack, along with two small fans for forced convection. Three other cooling configurations with differently sized fans are also tested for comparisons (without PGSs). Although the maximum power generated by the stack with the configuration combining PGSs and fans was 183 W, not the highest among all configurations, it significantly reduced the volume, weight, and cooling power of the thermal management system. Net power, specific power, volumetric power density, and back work ratio of this novel thermal management method are 179 W, 18.54 W kg −1, 38.9 kW m −3, and 2.1%, respectively, which are superior to those of the other three cooling configurations with fans.