Experimental Investigation of the Effect of Composition on the Performance and Characteristics of PEM Fuel Cell Catalyst Layers

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Virginia Tech

The catalyst layer of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell is a mixture of polymer, carbon, and platinum. The characteristics of the catalyst layer play a critical role in determining the performance of the PEM fuel cell. This research investigates the role of catalyst layer composition using a Central Composite Design (CCD) experiment with two factors which are Nafion content and carbon loading while the platinum catalyst surface area is held constant. For each catalyst layer composition, polarization curves are measured to evaluate cell performance at common operating conditions, Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS), and Cyclic Voltammetry (CV) are then applied to investigate the cause of the observed variations in performance. The results show that both Nafion and carbon content significantly affect MEA performance. The ohmic resistance and active catalyst area of the cell do not correlate with catalyst layer composition, and observed variations in the cell resistance and active catalyst area produced changes in performance that were not significant relative to compositions of catalyst layers.

PEM fuel cell, Catalyst layer