Modification and evaluation of fuel cell membranes

Amol Prataprao Nalawade


The primary goals of this study were modification of existing Nafion® membranes and characterization of newly developed hydrocarbon-based membranes for high temperature fuel cell applications. Various Nafion® /silicate nanocomposites were formulated via in situ sol-gel reactions for tetraethylorthosilicate. Different silicate composition profiles generated across membrane cross-sections were investigated by EDAX/ESEM. Composite water uptake, proton conductivity and fuel cell performance were comparable to that of unmodified Nafion ® . Tafel analysis showed better electrode kinetics for composites having more silicate in the middle and less or no silicate at electrolyte-electrode interfaces. All composites showed reduced fuel cross-over and superior mechanical as well as chemical durability than unmodified Nafion ® . Poly(cyclohexadiene) (PCHD) materials were characterized in the interest of developing alternative low-cost proton exchange membranes. All cross-linked sulfonated (xsPCHD) membranes showed significantly higher water uptake at 80 °C and higher proton conductivity at 120 °C at all relative humidities (RH), compared to the current benchmark membrane, Nafion ® . A xsPCHD-poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) copolymer and a xsPCHD-PEG blend surpassed the DOE target by exhibiting proton conductivities of 141.44 and 322.40 mS/cm, respectively, at 50 % RH. Although the PCHD-based PEMs exhibited thermal stability up to 150 °C, they showed poor mechanical properties which would cause poor membrane durability during fuel cell operation. Atomic force microscopy studies demonstrated nanophase separated morphology of xsPCHD having a higher degree of connectedness of hydrophilic domains in the copolymer and blends relative to the xsPCHD homopolymer. Broadband dielectric spectroscopy (BDS) was used to study sub-T g relaxations in annealed poly(2,5-benzimidazole) (ABPBI) fuel cell precursor materials. A trend in degree of connectivity of charge migration pathways and conductivity with annealing temperature and time was uncovered. Solid state 1 H and 13 C NMR studies showed hydrogen bonding group mobility while wide angle X-ray diffraction investigations indicated an increase in chain packing efficiency vs. temperature. BDS studies also investigated the effect of acid doping on poly(benzimidazole) (PBI) membrane macromolecular dynamics and σ dc conductivity, sdc. High [varepsilon]' values observed for acid doped samples in the low frequency regime could be due to membrane-electrode interfacial polarization. Distribution of relaxation time curves broadened while σdc increased with increase in acid doping level in the PBI membrane.