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Investigations of proton conducting polymers and gas diffusion electrodes in the polymer electrolyte fuel cell

  • Gode, Peter
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2005
DiVA - Academic Archive On-line
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Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC) convert the chemically bound energy in a fuel, e.g. hydrogen, directly into electricity by an electrochemical process. Examples of future applications are energy conversion such as combined heat and power generation (CHP), zero emission vehicles (ZEV) and consumer electronics. One of the key components in the PEFC is the membrane / electrode assembly (MEA). Both the membrane and the electrodes consist of proton conducting polymers (ionomers). In the membrane, properties such as gas permeability, high proton conductivity and sufficient mechanical and chemical stability are of crucial importance. In the electrodes, the morphology and electrochemical characteristics are strongly affected by the ionomer content. The primary purpose of the present thesis was to develop experimental techniques and to use them to characterise proton conducting polymers and membranes for PEFC applications electrochemically at, or close to, fuel cell operating conditions. The work presented ranges from polymer synthesis to electrochemical characterisation of the MEA performance. The use of a sulfonated dendritic polymer as the acidic component in proton conducting membranes was demonstrated. Proton conducting membranes were prepared by chemical cross-linking or in conjunction with a basic functionalised polymer, PSU-pyridine, to produce acid-base blend membranes. In order to study gas permeability a new in-situ method based on cylindrical microelectrodes was developed. An advantage of this method is that the measurements can be carried out at close to real fuel cell operating conditions, at elevated temperature and a wide range of relative humidities. The durability testing of membranes for use in a polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) has been studied in situ by a combination of galvanostatic steady-state and electrochemical impedance measurements (EIS). Long-term experiments have been compared to fast ex situ testing in 3 % H2O2 solution. For the direct assessment of membrane degradation, micro-Raman spectroscopy and determination of ion exchange capacity (IEC) have been used. PVDF-based membranes, radiation grafted with styrene and sulfonated, were used as model membranes. The influence of ionomer content on the structure and electrochemical characteristics of Nafion-based PEFC cathodes was also demonstrated. The electrodes were thoroughly investigated using various materials and electrochemical characterisation techniques. Electrodes having medium Nafion contents (35<x<45 wt %) showed the best performance. The mass-transport limitation was essentially due to O2 diffusion in the agglomerates. The performance of cathodes with low Nafion content (<30 wt %) is limited by poor kinetics owing to incomplete wetting of platinum (Pt) by Nafion, by proton migration throughout the cathode as well as by O2 diffusion in the agglomerates. At large Nafion content (>45 wt %), the cathode becomes limited by diffusion of O2 both in the agglomerates and throughout the cathode. Furthermore, models for the membrane coupled with kinetics for the hydrogen electrode, including water concentration dependence, were developed. The models were experimentally validated using a new reference electrode approach. The membrane, as well as the hydrogen anode and cathode characteristics, was studied experimentally using steady-state measurements, current interrupt and EIS. Data obtained with the experiments were in good agreement with the modelled results. / QC 20101014

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