Stabilized composite membranes and membrane electrode assemblies for high temperature/low relative humidity polymer electrolyte fuel cell operation

Date of Completion

January 2004


Engineering, Chemical|Energy




Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have a variety of applications in the stationary power, mobile power and automotive power sectors. Existing membrane technology presently permits fuel cell operation at temperatures less than 100°C under fully saturated conditions. However, several advantages such as easier heat rejection rates and improved impurities tolerance by the anode electrocatalyst result by operating a PEMFC at elevated temperatures (above 100°C) and lower relative humidities. In an attempt to extend the operating range of the polymer electrolyte membrane, perfluorosulfonic acid (Nafion®) based organic/inorganic (heteropolyacid) composite membranes were investigated in terms of thermal and electrochemical stability, additive stability and conductivity. Tungsten based heteropolyacids (HPAs) were found to be electrochemically stable as opposed to molybdenum based additives. The stability of the inorganic heteropolyacid additive in aqueous environments was enhanced by ion exchanging the protons of the HPAs with larger counter ions. An additional stabilization technique developed involved improving the interaction of HPA with Nafion® by linking the particles to the sulfonic acid clusters via a sol-gel induced metal oxide linkage. The proton conductivity of the composite membranes was found to depend on the particle size of the HPA additive. A two order of magnitude change in additive particle size was attained by modification of the membrane preparation technique. This modification resulted in a nearly 50% increase in conductivity. The membranes prepared were characterized by thermal analysis, spectroscopy and microscopy. ^ A technique was developed to incorporate existing MEA preparation and HPA stabilization techniques to the composite membranes with small HPA particles. All MEAs prepared were evaluated at high temperatures (120°C) and low relative humidities (35%) in an operating fuel cell, with membrane resistance and hence conductivity determined using an in-situ current interrupt technique. The MEAs were further characterized by cyclic voltammetry, linear sweep voltammetry and impedance spectroscopy and polarization tests to determine their performance characteristics. Through these tests, it was determined that the MEA preparation technique developed was effective. ^ The composite membrane strategy was extended to sulfonated hydrocarbon backbones and the feasibility of using the hydrocarbon polymer in the electrodes (instead of Nafion®) to promote interfacial stability was explored. ^