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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

First Advisor

Jeffrey Allen


An experimental setup was designed to visualize water percolation inside the porous transport layer, PTL, of proton exchange membrane, PEM, fuel cells and identify the relevant characterization parameters. In parallel with the observation of the water movement, the injection pressure (pressure required to transport water through the PTL) was measured. A new scaling for the drainage in porous media has been proposed based on the ratio between the input and the dissipated energies during percolation. A proportional dependency was obtained between the energy ratio and a non-dimensional time and this relationship is not dependent on the flow regime; stable displacement or capillary fingering. Experimental results show that for different PTL samples (from different manufacturers) the proportionality is different. The identification of this proportionality allows a unique characterization of PTLs with respect to water transport. This scaling has relevance in porous media flows ranging far beyond fuel cells.

In parallel with the experimental analysis, a two-dimensional numerical model was developed in order to simulate the phenomena observed in the experiments. The stochastic nature of the pore size distribution, the role of the PTL wettability and morphology properties on the water transport were analyzed. The effect of a second porous layer placed between the porous transport layer and the catalyst layer called microporous layer, MPL, was also studied. It was found that the presence of the MPL significantly reduced the water content on the PTL by enhancing fingering formation. Moreover, the presence of small defects (cracks) within the MPL was shown to enhance water management. Finally, a corroboration of the numerical simulation was carried out. A threedimensional version of the network model was developed mimicking the experimental conditions. The morphology and wettability of the PTL are tuned to the experiment data by using the new energy scaling of drainage in porous media. Once the fit between numerical and experimental data is obtained, the computational PTL structure can be used in different types of simulations where the conditions are representative of the fuel cell operating conditions.