Local degradation of structural, mechanical, electrical and chemical properties of membrane electrode assembly in polymer electrolyte fuel cell

Nishith Parikh



Polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEMFC) is promising source of clean power in many applications ranging from portable electronics to automotive and land-based power generation. However, widespread commercialization of PEMFC is primarily challenged by degradation. The mechanisms of fuel cell degradation are not well understood. Even though the numbers of installed units around the world continue to increase and dominate the pre-markets, the present lifetime requirements for fuel cells cannot be guarantee, creating the need for a more comprehensive knowledge of material’s ageing mechanism. The objective of this project is to conduct experiments on membrane electrode assembly (MEA) components of PEMFC to study structural, mechanical, electrical and chemical changes during ageing and understanding failure/degradation mechanism.

The first part of this project was devoted to surface roughness analysis on catalyst layer (CL) and gas diffusion layer (GDL) using surface mapping microscopy. This study was motivated by the need to have a quantitative understanding of the GDL and CL surface morphology at the submicron level to predict interfacial contact resistance. Nanoindentation studies using atomic force microscope (AFM) were introduced to investigate the effect of degradation on mechanical properties of CL. The elastic modulus was decreased by 45 % in end of life (EOL) CL as compare to beginning of life (BOL) CL. In another set of experiment, conductive AFM (cAFM) was used to probe the local electric current in CL. The conductivity drops by 62 % in EOL CL.

The future task will include characterization of MEA degradation using Raman and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Raman spectroscopy will help to detect degree of structural disorder in CL during degradation. FTIR will help to study the effect of CO in CL. XRD will be used to determine Pt particle size and its crystallinity. In-situ conductive AFM studies using electrochemical cell on CL to correlate its structure with oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) reactivity