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Electrochemical characterisation of porous cathodes in the polymer electrolyte fuel cell
KTH, Superseded Departments, Chemical Engineering and Technology.
2003 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC) convert chemicalenergy into electrical energy with higher efficiency thaninternal combustion engines. They are particularly suited fortransportation applications or portable devices owing to theirhigh power density and low operating temperature. The latter ishowever detrimental to the kinetics of electrochemicalreactions and in particular to the reduction of oxygen at thecathode. The latter reaction requires enhancing by the verybest catalyst, today platinum. Even so, the cathode isresponsible for the main loss of voltage in the cell. Moreover,the scarce and expensive nature of platinum craves theoptimisation of its use.

The purpose of this thesis was to better understand thefunctioning of the porous cathode in the PEFC. This wasachieved by developing physical models to predict the responseof the cathode to steady-state polarisation, currentinterruption (CI) and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy(EIS), and by comparing these results to experimental ones. Themodels account for the kinetics of the oxygen reduction as wellas for the transport of the reactants throughout the cathode,i.e. diffusion of gases and proton migration. The agglomeratestructure was assumed for the description of the internalstructure of the cathode. The electrochemical experiments wereperformed on electrodes having a surface of 0.5 cm2 using alaboratory fuel cell.

The response of the cathode to various electrodecompositions, thickness, oxygen pressure and relative humiditywas experimentally investigated with steady-state polarisation,EIS and CI techniques. It is shown that a content in thecathode of 35-43 wt % of Nafion, the polymer electrolyte, gavethe best performance. Such cathodes display a doubling of theapparent Tafel slope at high current density. In this region,the current is proportional to the cathode thickness and to theoxygen pressure, which, according to the agglomerate model,corresponds to limitation by oxygen diffusion in theagglomerates. The same analysis was made using EIS. Moreover,experimental results showed that the Tafel slope increases fordecreasing relative humidity. For Nafion contents lower than 35wt %, the cathode becomes limited by proton migration too. ForNafion contents larger than 40 wt %, the cathode performance athigh current density decreases again owing to an additionalmass transport. The latter is believed to be oxygen diffusionthroughout the cathode. The activity for oxygen reduction ofcatalysts based on iron acetate adsorbed on a carbon powder andpyrolysed at 900°C in ammonia atmosphere was alsoinvestigated. It was shown that the choice of carbon has atremendous effect. The best catalysts were, on a weight basis,as active as platinum.

Keywords:polymer electrolyte fuel cell, cathode, masstransport, porous electrode, modelling, agglomerate model,electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, current interrupt,transient techniques, non-noble catalysts

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Kemiteknik , 2003. , vii, 70 p.
Trita-KET, ISSN 1104-3466 ; 175
Keyword [en]
polymer electrolyte fuel cell, cathode, mass transport, porous electrode, modelling, agglomerate model, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, current interrupt, transient techniques, non-noble catalysts
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-3498ISBN: 91-7283-450-1OAI: diva2:9303
Public defence
NR 20140805Available from: 2003-04-15 Created: 2003-04-15Bibliographically approved

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