• durability;
  • mechanical failure;
  • membrane degradation;
  • polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell


The life of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) is currently limited by the mechanical endurance of polymer electrolyte membranes and membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs). In this paper, the authors report recent experimental and modeling work toward understanding the mechanisms of delayed mechanical failures of polymer electrolyte membranes and MEAs under relevant PEMFC operating conditions. Mechanical breach of membranes/MEAs in the form of pinholes and tears has been frequently observed after long-term or accelerated testing of PEMFC cells/stacks. Catastrophic failure of cell/stack due to rapid gas crossover shortly follows the mechanical breach. Ex situ mechanical characterizations were performed on MEAs after being subjected to the accelerated chemical aging and relative humidity (RH) cycling tests. The results showed significant reduction of MEA ductility manifested as drastically reduced strain-to-failure of the chemically aged and RH-cycled MEAs. Postmortem analysis revealed the formation and growth of mechanical defects such as cracks and crazing in the membranes and MEAs. A finite element model was used to estimate stress/strain states of an edge-constrained MEA under rapid RH variations. Damage metrics for accelerated testing and life prediction of PEMFCs are discussed. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part B: Polym Phys 44: 2346–2357, 2006