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Open Access Original research

Analysis and optimization of current collecting systems in PEM fuel cells

Peiwen Li1*, Jeong-Pill Ki12 and Hong Liu1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA

2 Current address: Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX, 76019, USA

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International Journal of Energy and Environmental Engineering 2012, 3:2  doi:10.1186/2251-6832-3-2

Published: 27 April 2012

Abstract

This paper presents analytical and experimental studies on optimization of the gas delivery and current collection system in a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell for the objective of reducing ohmic loss, thereby achieving higher power density. Specifically, the dimensions of current collection ribs as well as the rib distribution were optimized to get a maximized power density in a fuel cell. In the modeling process, the power output from a fixed area of membrane is calculated through analysis of an electrical circuit simulating the current from electrochemical reaction flowing to the current collectors. Current collectors of two-dimensional ribs and three-dimensional pillars were considered. Analyses found that three-dimensional pillars allow higher power density in a PEM fuel cell. Considering the mass transfer enhancement effect, three-dimensional pillars as current collectors in gas flow field may be a good choice if the fuel cell operates at low current density and there is no liquid water blocking the flow channels. The analyses did not consider the existence of liquid water, meaning the current density is not very high. The study concluded that decreasing the size of both the current collector and its control area yields a significant benefit to a higher power density. A preliminary experimental test in a PEM fuel cell has verified the conclusion of the analytical work.

Keywords:
Proton-exchange-membrane fuel cell; Optimization; Current collectors; Analysis