Liquid water transport in fuel cell gas diffusion layers




Bazylak, Aimy Ming Jii

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Liquid water management has a major impact on the performance and durability of the polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC). The gas diffusion layer (GDL) of a PEMFC provides pathways for mass, heat, and electronic transport to and from the catalyst layers and bipolar plates. When the GDL becomes flooded with liquid water, the PEMFC undergoes mass transport losses that can lead to decreased performance and durability. The work presented in this thesis includes contributions that provide insight into liquid water transport behaviour in and on the surface of the GDL, as well as insight into how future GDLs could be designed to enhance water management. The effects of compression on liquid water transport in the GDL and on the microstructure of the GDL are presented. It was found that compressed regions of the GDL provided preferential locations for water breakthrough, while scanning electron microscopy (SEM) imaging revealed irreversible damage to the GDL due to compression at typical fuel cell assembly pressures. The dynamic behaviour of droplet emergence and detachment in a simulated gas flow channel are also presented. It was found that on an initially dry and hydrophobic GDL, small droplets emerged and detached quickly from the GDL surface. However, over time, this water transport regime transitioned into that of slug formation and channel flooding. It was observed that after being exposed to a saturated environment, the GDL surface became increasingly prone to droplet pinning, which ultimately hindered droplet detachment and encouraged slug formation. A pore network model featuring invasion percolation with trapping was employed to evaluate the breakthrough pattern predictions of designed porous media. These designed pore networks consisted of randomized porous media with applied diagonal and radial gradients. Experimental microfluidic pore networks provided validation for the designed networks. Diagonal biasing provided a means of directing water transport in the pore network, while radially biased networks provided the additional feature of reducing the overall network saturation. Since directed water transport and reduced saturation are both beneficial for the PEMFC GDL, it was proposed that biasing of this nature could be applied to improved GDL designs. Lastly, recommendations for future extensions of this research are proposed at the end of this thesis.



Fuel Cell, Gas diffusion layer, Water Transport