Research Papers

PEMFC Flow Channel Geometry Optimization: A Review

[+] Author and Article Information
Ararimeh Aiyejina, M. K. S. Sastry

 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago

J. Fuel Cell Sci. Technol 9(1), 011011 (Dec 22, 2011) (24 pages) doi:10.1115/1.4005393 History: Received April 01, 2011; Revised October 25, 2011; Published December 22, 2011; Online December 22, 2011

The proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is a particularly promising energy conversion device for use in stationary or vehicular applications. PEMFCs provide high efficiency and power density, with zero emissions, low operating temperatures, quick start-up, and long lifetime. While the usage of PEMFCs has been on the increase, their commercialization has been hindered by technical issues such as water flooding in their cathodes. Flow field optimization is one approach to mitigating these issues, as the geometry of the flow channels within a PEMFC influences reactant transport, water management, and reactant utilization efficiency, and thus the final performance of a PEMFC system. This paper looks at some of the recent research that has been focused on modeling PEMFCs, exploring phenomena in them, and improving their performance, especially through flow field optimization. This paper shows how such modeling can provide useful information for PEMFC optimization, and, based on the research reviewed, presents recommendations that can be implemented in optimizing the design of a PEMFC bipolar for maximum performance. Among more traditional designs, the reviewed research shows that a serpentine flow field with small channel and rib size would perform the best at low operating voltages, and could be further improved by utilizing diverging channels with varying heights. Furthermore, additions such as baffles have been shown to improve the performance of various flow channel designs.

Copyright © 2012 by American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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Figure 1

Number of PEMFC units installed for each applications in 2008 [9]

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Figure 2

A schematic of a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell [1]

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Figure 3

Two-dimensional sectional view of phenomena within a PEMFC [11]

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Figure 4

Shapes and cross sections of the model flow field channels used for the experimental setup [16]

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Figure 5

Determination of minimum pressure drop required for the transportation of a specific water droplet through channels of different geometries and cross-sectional areas. The pressure drops are plotted with respect to the normalized droplet volume defined as a channel filling droplet of 1 mm in length [16].

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Figure 6

Numerical models of PEMFCs with different flow field designs: (a) parallel flow field, (b) Z-type flow field, (c) serpentine flow field, (d) parallel flow field with baffle, and (e) Z-type flow field with baffle [38]

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Figure 7

Comparison of experimental performance curves for the PEMFC between the serpentine and parallel flow channels [33]

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Figure 8

Comparison of experimental performance curves for the PEMFC between the parallel flow channels with single path of uniform depth and four paths of stepwise depths [33]

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Figure 9

Simulated polarization curves at 423 K for the three different geometries studied [34]

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Figure 10

Polarization and power curves obtained with different flow channel geometries. Oxygen flow rate was 76 sccm and hydrogen flow rate was 228 sccm [35].

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Figure 11

Effect of number of flow channel bends on cell performance [24]

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Figure 12

Effect of number of flow channel serpentine loops on cell performance [24]

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Figure 13

The polarization curves of the fuel cells with parallel, Z-type, and serpentine flow fields [36]

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Figure 14

Comparison of experimental and predicted polarization curves [37]

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Figure 15

Size effect of PEM fuel cells with various flow fields [37]

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Figure 16

Flow field designs in study (left: anode; right: cathode). (a) Cell 1; (b) cell 2; and (c) cell 3 [22].

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Figure 17

Comparison of performances of four single cells [22]

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Figure 18

Geometry of the trapezoidal cross-sectional channel [40]

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Figure 19

Variation of dimensionless pressure drop between inlet and outlet of the channel with different R values for Re = 100 [40]

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Figure 20

Model prediction of the polarization curve and experimental data [42]

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Figure 21

Dependent variables, governing equations, and boundary conditions for the cathode in a PEM fuel cell [1]

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Figure 23

Dependent variables, governing equations, and boundary conditions in the porous PEMFC cathode [43]

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Figure 24

Effect of cell height [46]

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Figure 25

Modeled polarization of the serpentine channel fuel cell [27]

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Figure 26

Modeling domain—x and y axis have been normalized: x axis is normalized by the height of the flow channel, which is 1 mm; here x = 6 denotes a distance of 6 mm; the section (0 ≤ y ≤ 2) is normalized by the channel height, which is 1 mm and y = 2 denotes a distance of 2 mm; the section (2 ≤ y ≤ 3) is normalized by the GDL thickness, which is 150 µm and the section (3 ≤ y ≤ 4) is normalized by the catalyst layer thickness, which is 5 µm [49]

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Figure 27

Effect of shoulder to channel width ratio on the temperature variation along the normalized x direction for different normalized y values of (a) 2; (b) 2.5; (c) 3; and (d) 4 [49]

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Figure 28

Polarization curves of PEM fuel cells with parallel and interdigitated flow fields for various flow channel aspect ratios [7]

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Figure 22

Dependent variables, governing equations, and boundary conditions in the interdigitated air distributor [43]

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Figure 29

Polarization curves of PEM fuel cells for various flow channel cross-sectional areas. (a) Parallel flow field and (b) interdigitated flow field [7].

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Figure 30

Schematic of three-dimensional serpentine PEM fuel cell with varying channel heights [52]

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Figure 31

Cross section and side view of gas flow channel with three obstacle geometries in the bipolar plate of a PEMFC. Modified from Ref. [6].

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Figure 32

Evolution of Nusselt number with curvilinear coordinate for four gas flow channel geometries [6]

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Figure 33

Cathode flow field designs: (a) SFF, (b) SBFF-1, (c) SBFF-2, and (d) SBFF-3 [5]

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Figure 34

Conventional and baffled cell performance characteristics [5]

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Figure 35

The configuration and local mesh configuration of a PEMFC half-cell in a flow channel: (a) without a rectangular cylinder and (b) with a rectangular cylinder [56]

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Figure 36

Schematic diagram of (a) conventional interdigitated flow field and (b) midbaffle interdigitated flow field [57]

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Figure 37

Comparison of polarization curves between the midbaffle and conventional interdigitated flow fields at different volumetric flow rates of air. Backpressure = 1 bar (IFF = interdigitated flow field) [57].

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Figure 40

Computational domain and schematic of annular PEMFC with (a) one connection [1], (b) one connection [2], (c) one connection [3], (d) two connections [1], (e) two connections [2], and (f) four connections [61]

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Figure 38

Passive water management flow field (WMFF) design. The main image (top left) and a detailed view (bottom left) show the aluminum flow field with integrated wick. Control (no wick) flow field is shown in the inset on the top right. The cross section of the wick and control case are compared on the bottom right. Both flow fields have equal open channel and manifold geometry to ensure similar gas flow characteristics [59].

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Figure 39

(a) Schematic of EO flow in a porous glass EO pump. The main schematic depicts flow through the porous glass substrate. A scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the porous glass is shown in the bottom left. Schematic in upper left depicts electric double layer (EDL) formation. (b) Cut-away schematic of the fuel cell assembly with an integrated porous carbon wick and an external 2 cm2 EO pump [60].

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Figure 41

Simplified model of the radial fuel cell. Modified from Ref. [63].

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Figure 42

Current density for the three radial PEMFC models proposed [63]



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