Content and goals of the research project
Polymer electrolyte fuel cells offer an attractive alternative to gasoline and diesel vehicles, due to their absence of pollutant and greenhouse gases emissions. However, the management of the product water is very complex, as liquid water must share the pathways with the reaction gases. In particular, water accumulates in the so called gas diffusion layer, a water repellent porous material which is used for the fine distribution of gases. This accumulation leads to performance losses.
In the frame of a previous SNSF funded project (no. 143432), a new technology was developed, in which special regions of the gas diffusion layer were made hydrophilic (= water attracting), to create pathways for the removal of water. The new materials were tested in small laboratory cells and an improvement of performance was obtained. In the current follow-up project, the durability of these materials will be analyzed and improved if necessary. Moreover, the performance will be further improved by the combination of our process with state-of-the-art bilayer materials.
Scientific and societal context
Fuel cell vehicles have the potential to combine the emission free aspects of the well-known battery electric vehicles and the ease-of-use aspects of the usual gasoline and diesel vehicles (long driving range, fast refill). First commercial models were put on the market by different automotive companies in the previous years, but their wide acceptance is strongly dependent on a reduction of the costs. The materials developed in the frame of this project will help to reduce the costs through a simplification of the water management, and to increase the prevalence of this environmentally friendly technology.