A dual-electrode membrane electrode assembly (MEA) for proton exchange membrane fuel cells with enhanced polarization under zero relative humidity (RH) is fabricated by introducing a phase-separated morphology in an agglomerated catalyst layer of Pt/C (platinum on carbon black) and Nafion. In the catalyst layer, a sufficient level of phase separation is achieved by dispersing the Pt catalyst and the Nafion dispersion in a mixed-solvent system (propane-1,2,3-triol/1-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone).The high polymer chain mobility results in improved water uptake and regular pore-size distribution with small pore diameters. The electrochemical performance of the dual-film electrode assembly with different levels of phase separation is compared to conventional electrode assemblies. As a result, good performance at 0 % RH is obtained because self-humidification is dramatically improved by attaching this dense and phase-separated catalytic overlayer onto the conventional catalyst layer. A MEA prepared using the thin-film, dual-layered electrode exhibits 39-fold increased RH stability and 28-fold improved start-up recovery time during the on–off operation relative to the conventional device. We demonstrate the successful operation of the dual-layered electrode comprised of discriminatively phase-separated agglomerates with an ultrahigh zero RH fuel-cell performance reaching over 95 % performance of a fully humidified MEA.
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