Surface Wettability Impact on Water Management in PEM Fuel Cell
Al Shakhshir, Saher
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Excessive water formation inside the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell’s structures leads to the flooding of the cathode gas diffusion layer (GDL) and cathode gas flow channels. This results in a negative impact on water management and the overall cell performance. Liquid water generated in the cathode catalyst layer and the water moved from anode to cathode side due to electro-osmotic drag transport through the GDL to reach the gas flow field channels, where it is removed by air cathode gas stream. Due to high and uniform capillary force distribution effect of the pores through the GDL plane and surface tension between the water droplets and gas flow field channels surfaces, liquid water tends to block/fill the pores of the GDL and stick to the surface of the GDL and gas flow channels. Therefore, it is difficult to remove the trapped water in GDL structure which can lead to flood of the PEM fuel cell. The GDL surfaces are commonly treated uniformly with a hydrophobic material in order to overcome the flooding phenomena inside PEM fuel cell. Despite the importance impact of the surface wettability of both channel and GDL surface characteristics especially for the cathode side on the water management, few experimental studies have been conducted to investigate the effect of the two-phase flow in cathode gas flow channel and their crucial role. The work presented in this thesis covers contributions that provide insight, not only into the investigation of the effects of hydrophobic cathode GDL and cathode gas flow channels, on water removal, two phase flow inside the channel, and on PEM fuel cell performance, but also the superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic GDLs and gas flow channels effects. Further, the effects of a novel GDL designs with sandwich and gradient wettability with driving capillary force through GDL plane have been investigated. Two-phase flow especially in the cathode gas flow field channels of PEM fuel cell has a crucial role on water removal. Hence, in this research, ex-situ investigations of the effects of channels with different surface wettability; superhydrophobic, hydrophobic, slightly hydrophobic, and superhydrophilic on the two-phase flow characteristics have been tested and visualized at room temperature. Pressure drop measurements and two-phase flow visualization have been carried out using high speed camera. The effect of the various coating materials on graphite and GDL surface morphology, roughness, static contact angle (θ), and sliding contact angle (α) have been investigated using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Profilometry, and sessile drop technique, respectively. It has been observed that the two-phase flow resistance is considerably affected by surface wettability of the channels. Further, the overall cell performance can be improved by superhydrophobic gas flow channels mainly at high current density over slightly hydrophobic and superhydrophilic cases tested. In addition, sandwich wettability GDL has been coated with a silica particle/ Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) composite. The porometric characteristics have been studied using, method of standard porosimetry (MSP). It has been found that sandwich wettability GDL has superhydrophobic surfaces with (θ = 162±2°), (α = 5±1°), and the internal pores are hydrophilic, while the mean pore radius is 7.1μm. This shows a low resistance to gas transport. On the other hand, performance testing indicates that (PEM) fuel cell equipped with sandwich wettability GDL results in the best performance compared to those with raw (non-coated) (slightly hydrophobic), PTFE coated (commercial with micro-porous layer (MPL)) (superhydrophobic), and silica coated (superhydrophilic) GDL. The wettability gradient has been introduced through plane of the one side hydrophobic GDL by coating one side of non-coated GDL with 15 wt. % of PTFE solution; however, the other side remains uncoated. The effects of wettability gradient on the water removal rate, droplet dynamics, and PEM fuel cell performance have been covered in this thesis. Water removal rate is determined using a 20 ml syringe barrel, wherein a 13 mm diameter GDL token is fixed on the barrel opening. The droplets penetrating through the GDL are visualized via a high speed camera to study the droplets’ dynamic characteristics. The GDL wettability gradient has a significant impact on water removal rate, droplets’ dynamic characteristics, and consequently enhances the overall PEM fuel cell performance.