Accelerated Durability Testing via Reactants Relative Humidity Cycling on Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells
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Cycling of the relative humidity (RH) levels in the reactant streams of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells has been reported to decay fuel cell performance. This study focuses on the accelerated durability testing to examine different modes of membrane failure via RH cycling. A single PEM fuel cell with an active area of 42.25 cm2 was tested. A Greenlight G50 test station was used to establish baseline cell (Run 1) performance with 840 hours of degradation under high-humidity idle conditions at a constant current density of 10 mA cm-2. Under the same conditions, two other experiments were conducted by varying the RH. For the H2-air RH cycling test (Run 2), anode and cathode inlet gases were provided as dry and humidified gases. Another RH cycling experiment was the H2 RH cycling test (Run 3): the anode inlet gas was cycled whereas keeping the other side constantly at full humidification. These two RH cycling experiments were alternated in dry and 100% humidified conditions every 10 and 40 minutes, respectively. In the experiments, the fuel cells contained a GoreTM 57 catalyst coated membrane (CCM) and 35 BC SGL gas diffusion layers (GDLs). The fuel cell test station had been performed under idle conditions at a constant current density of 10 mA cm-2. Under the idle conditions, operating at very low current density, a low chemical degradation rate and minimal electrical load stress were anticipated. However, the membrane was expected to degrade due to additional stress from the membrane swelling/contraction cycle controlled by the RH. In this work the performance of the 100% RH humidified cell (Run 1) was compared with that of RH cycling cells (Run 2 and Run 3). Chemical and mechanical degradation of the membrane were investigated using in-situ and ex-situ diagnostic methods. The results of each measurement during and after fuel cell operation are consistent. They clearly show that changing in RH lead to an overall PEM fuel cell degradation due to the increase in membrane degradation rate from membrane resistance, fluoride ion release concentration, hydrogen crossover current, membrane thinning, and hot-spot/pin-hole formation.