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Voltage Instability in a Simulated Fuel Cell Stack Correlated to Cathode Water Accumulation



Jon P. Owejan, T Trabold, Jeffrey J. Gagliardo, Robert N. Carter, Daniel S. Hussey, David L. Jacobson, Muhammad D. Arif


Single fuel cells running independently are often used for fundamental studies of water transport. It is also necessary to assess the dynamic behavior of fuel cell stacks comprised of multiple cells arranged in series, thus providing many paths for flow of reactant hydrogen on the anode and air (or pure oxygen) on the cathode. In the current work, the flow behavior of a fuel cell stack is simulated by using a single-cell test fixture coupled with a bypass flow loop for the cathode flow. This bypass simulates the presence of additional cells in a stack and provides an alternate path for air flow, thus avoiding forced convective purging of cathode flow channels. Water accumulation in the cathode is shown to occur in two modes; initially nearly all the product water is retained in the gas diffusion layer until a critical saturation fraction is reached and then water accumulation in the flow channels begins. Flow redistribution and fuel cell performance loss result from channel slug formation. The application of in-situ neutron radiography affords a transient correlation of performance loss to liquid water accumulation. The current results identify a mechanism whereby depleted cathode flow on a single cell leads to performance loss, which can ultimately cause an operating proton exchange membrane fuel cell stack to fail.
Journal of Power Sources


gas diffusion layer, neutron imaging, proton exchange membrane fuel cell, stack, water transport


Owejan, J. , Trabold, T. , Gagliardo, J. , Carter, R. , Hussey, D. , Jacobson, D. and Arif, M. (2007), Voltage Instability in a Simulated Fuel Cell Stack Correlated to Cathode Water Accumulation, Journal of Power Sources, [online], (Accessed April 21, 2024)
Created July 21, 2007, Updated October 12, 2021