Oxygen mass transport limitations at the cathode of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells



Oxygen transport across the cathode gas diffusion layer (GDL) in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells was examined by varying the O2/N2 ratio and by varying the area of the GDL extending laterally from the gas flow channel under the bipolar plate (under the land). As the cathode is depleted of oxygen, the current density becomes limited by oxygen transport across the GDL. Oxygen depletion from O2/N2 mixtures limits catalyst utilization, especially under the land.The local current density with air fed PEM fuel cells falls to practically zero at lateral distances under the land more than 3 times the GDL thickness; on the other hand, catalyst utilization was not limited when the fuel cell cathode was fed with 100% oxygen. The ratio of GDL thickness to the extent of the land is thus critical to the effective utilization of the catalyst in an air fed PEM fuel cell. © 2010 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 2011