Current and Temperature Distributions in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell
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Proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is a potential alternative energy conversion device for stationary and automotive applications. Wide commercialization of PEMFC depends on progress that can be achieved to enhance its reliability and durability along with cost reduction. It is desirable to operate the PEMFC at uniform local current density and temperature distributions over the surface of the membrane electrode assembly (MEA). Non-uniform distributions of both current and temperature over the MEA could result in poor reactant and catalyst utilization as well as overall cell performance degradation. Local current distribution in the PEMFC electrodes are closely related to operating conditions, but it is also affected by the organization of the reactant flow arrangements in PEMFCs. Reactant depletion and water formation along the flow channel leads to current variation from the channel inlet to the exit, which leads to non-uniformity of local electrochemical reaction activity, and degradation of the cell performance. Flow arrangements between the anode and cathode streams, such as co-, counter- and cross- flow can exacerbate the effect of the non-uniformity considerably, producing complex current distribution patterns over the electrode surfaces. Thus, understanding of the local current density and its spatial characteristics, as well as the temperature distributions under different physical and operating conditions, is crucially important in order to develop optimum design and operational strategies. Despite the importance of the influence of the flow arrangement on the local current and temperature distributions under various operating conditions, few systematic studies have been conducted experimentally to investigate this effect. In this research, an experimental setup with special PEMFC test cells are designed and fabricated in-house, in order to conduct in-situ mapping of the local current and temperature distributions over the electrode surfaces. A segmented flow field plate and the printed circuit board (PCB) technique is used to measure the current distribution in a single PEMFC. In situ, nondestructive temperature measurements are conducted using thermocouples to determine the actual temperature distribution. Experimental studies have been conducted to investigate the effect of different flow arrangements between the anode and cathode (co-, counter-, and cross- flow) on the local current density distribution over the MEA surface. Furthermore, local current distribution has been characterized for PEMFCs under various operating conditions such as reactant stoichiometry ratios, reactant backpressure, cell temperature, cell potentials, and relative humidity for each one of the reactant flow arrangements. The dynamic characteristics of the local current in PEMFC under different operating conditions also have been studied. Temperature distributions along the parallel and serpentine flow channels in PEMFs under various operating conditions are also investigated. All independent tests are conducted to identify and optimize the key design and operational parameters for both local current and temperature distributions. It has been found that the local current density distribution is strongly affected by the flow arrangement between the anode and cathode streams and the key operating conditions. It has also been observed that the counter-flow arrangement generates the most uniform distribution for the current density, whereas the co-flow arrangement results in a considerable variation in the current density from the reactant gas stream inlet to the exit. Low stoichiometry ratio of hydrogen at the anode side has a predominant effect on the current distribution and cell performance. Further, it has been found that the dynamic characteristics and the degree of fluctuation of local current density inside PEMFC are strongly influenced by the crucial operating conditions. In-situ, nondestructive temperature measurements indicate that the temperature distribution inside the PEMFC is strongly sensitive to the cell’s current density. The temperature distribution inside the PEMFC seems to be virtually uniform at low current density, while the temperature variation increases up to 2 oC at the high current density. Finally, the present work contribution related to the local current and temperature distributions is required to understand the effect of each individual or even several operating parameters combined together on the local current and temperature distributions. This will help to develop an optimum design, which leads to enhancing the reliability and durability in operational PEMFCs.