Electrode degradation in proton exchange membrane fuel cells
Sammanfattning: The topic of this thesis is the degradation of fuel cell electrodes in proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). In particular, the degradation associated with localized fuel starvation, which is often encountered during start-ups and shut-downs (SUs/SDs) of PEMFCs. At SU/SD, O2 and H2 usually coexist in the anode compartment. This situation forces the opposite electrode, i.e. the cathode, to very high potentials, resulting in the corrosion of the carbon supporting the catalyst, referred to as carbon corrosion. The aim of this thesis has been to develop methods, materials and strategies to address the issues associated to carbon corrosion in PEMFC.The extent of catalyst degradation is commonly evaluated determining the electrochemically active surface area (ECSA) of fuel cell electrode. Therefore, it was considered important to study the effect of RH, temperature and type of accelerated degradation test (ADT) on the ECSA. Low RH decreases the ECSA of the electrode, attributed to re-structuring the ionomer and loss of contact with the catalyst.In the search for more durable supports, we evaluated different accelerated degradation tests (ADTs) for carbon corrosion. Potentiostatic holds at 1.2 V vs. RHE were found to be too mild. Potentiostatic holds at 1.4 V vs. RHE were found to induce a large degree of reversibility, also attributed to ionomer re-structuring. Triangle-wave potential cycling was found to irreversibly degrade the electrode within a reasonable amount of time, closely simulating SU/SD conditions.Corrosion of carbon-based supports not only degrades the catalyst by lowering the ECSA, but also has a profound effect on the electrode morphology. Decreased electrode porosity, increased agglomerate size and ionomer enrichment all contribute to the degradation of the mass-transport properties of the cathode. Graphitized carbon fibers were found to be 5 times more corrosion resistant than conventional carbons, primarily attributed to their lower surface area. Furthermore, fibers were found to better maintain the integrity of the electrode morphology, generally showing less degradation of the mass-transport losses. Different system strategies for shut-down were evaluated. Not doing anything to the fuel cell during shut-downs is detrimental for the fuel cell. O2 consumption with a load and H2 purge of the cathode were found to give around 100 times lower degradation rates compared to not doing anything and almost 10 times lower degradation rate than a simple air purge of the anode. Finally, in-situ measurements of contact resistance showed that the contact resistance between GDL and BPP is highly dynamic and changes with operating conditions.
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