Optimizing membrane electrode assembly of direct methanol fuel cells for portable power

Open Access
Liu, Fuqiang
Graduate Program:
Materials Science and Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 26, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Chao Yang Wang, Committee Chair
  • Stefan Thynell, Committee Member
  • Howard W Pickering, Committee Member
  • Qing Wang, Committee Member
  • catalyst layer
  • membrane electrode assembly
  • Direct methanol fuel cell
  • optimization
  • portable power
Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) for portable power applications require high power density, high-energy conversion efficiency and compactness. These requirements translate to fundamental properties of high methanol oxidation and oxygen reduction kinetics, as well as low methanol and water crossover. In this thesis a novel membrane electrode assembly (MEA) for direct methanol fuel cells has been developed, aiming to improve these fundamental properties. Firstly, methanol oxidation kinetics has been enhanced and methanol crossover has been minimized by proper control of ionomer crystallinity and its swelling in the anode catalyst layer through heat-treatment. Heat-treatment has a major impact on anode characteristics. The short-cured anode has low ionomer crystallinity, and thus swells easily when in contact with methanol solution to create a much denser anode structure, giving rise to higher methanol transport resistance than the long-cured anode. Variations in interfacial properties in the anode catalyst layer (CL) during cell conditioning were also characterized, and enhanced kinetics of methanol oxidation and severe limiting current phenomenon were found to be caused by a combination of interfacial property variations and swelling of ionomer over time. Secondly, much effort has been expended to develop a cathode CL suitable for operation under low air stoichiometry. The effects of fabrication procedure, ionomer content, and porosity distribution on the microstructure and cathode performance under low air stoichiometry are investigated using electrochemical and surface morphology characterizations to reveal the correlation between microstructure and electrochemical behavior. At the same time, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models of DMFC cathodes have been developed to theoretically interpret the experimental results, to investigate two-phase transport, and to elucidate mechanism of cathode mixed potential due to methanol crossover. Thirdly, a MEA with low water crossover has been developed by employing a highly-hydrophobic microporous layer (MPL) to build up hydraulic pressure at the cathode, promoting product water permeation from the cathode to anode to offset water dragged by electro-osmosis. Water crossover through the MEA is further reduced by an anode hydrophobic MPL through facilitating water back diffusion. Under different current densities, the MEA with hydrophobic MPL has consistently low a, several times smaller than those with hydrophilic or without MPL. A simulation study of anode water transport by a two-phase model shows that anode MPL wettability strongly determines liquid saturation in the anode, and thus is identified as playing a crucial role in promoting water back diffusion. Finally, direct feed of highly-concentrated methanol using the optimized MEA has been successfully demonstrated by a face-feed anode plate, which minimizes methanol crossover by controlling the fuel delivery rate. Using 10 M methanol, a steady-state power density of ~67mW/cm2 is reached at 60oC and 175mA/cm2, which is almost identical to that with 2M methanol.