Liquid water transport and removal from the gas diffusion layer (GDL) and gas channel of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) are studied experimentally and theoretically. In situ observations of the liquid water distribution on the GDL surface and inside the gas channel were made in an operating transparent PEFC. Liquid droplet formation and emergence from the GDL surface are characterized and two modes of liquid water removal from the GDL surface identified: one through droplet detachment by the shear force of the core gas flow followed by a mist flow in the gas channel, and the other by capillary wicking onto the more hydrophilic channel walls followed by the annular film flow and/or liquid slug flow in the channel. In the former regime, typical of high gas flow rates, the droplet detachment diameter is correlated well with the mean gas velocity in the channel. In the latter regime characteristic of low gas flow rates, liquid spreading over hydrophilic channel surfaces and drainage via corner flow were observed and analyzed. A theory is developed to determine what operating parameters and channel surface contact angles lead to sufficient liquid drainage from the fuel cell via corner flow. Under these conditions, the fuel cell could operate stably under a low flow rate (or stoichiometry) with only a minimum pressure drop required to drive the oxidizer flow. However, when the corner flow is insufficient to remove liquid water from the gas channel, it was observed that the annular film flow occurs, often followed by film instability and channel clogging. Channel clogging shuts down an entire channel and hence reduces the cell's active area and overall performance.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Surfaces, Coatings and Films
- Materials Chemistry