This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Electrochemical Characterization and Modelling of Fuel Cells via AC Impedance and Residence Time Distribution




Payne, Robert

Type of Degree



Chemical Engineering


The performance of commercially available fuel cells was tested under a variety of test conditions and models were formulated to explain the experimental results. Several techniques were applied to single cells and groups of cells, each probing a different phenomenon responsible for limiting the power output of the cells. Nonuiformity of fuel cells in a stack can drastically affect the total power output, because a stack of cells in series can only provide as much electrical current as the weakest cell. Uniformity of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell voltage was measured for each cell of the 47 cells in a Nexa™ stack operating with 0 W and 800W supplied to an external load. Manufacturing consistency was assessed by comparing the mean cell potential of 10 different stacks. To minimize the cost of operating a stack, PEM fuel cells must be capable of withstanding higher impurity concentrations, which was accomplished by adding a manual purge line into the fuel exhaust line of a Nexa™ stack. The critical flow rate of the anode exhaust was determined by feeding gas diluted with up to 7% N2 to a stack supplying up to 200 W to an external load. The residence time distribution (RTD) of impurities in the stack was evaluated by injecting a pulse of inert gas and simultaneously measuring the time dependent voltage of each cell in the stack. A number of different compartmental flow models were developed to replicate the experimental data, but with minimal success; however, the added exhaust line successfully improved the impurity tolerance of the stack. Determining which and to what extent physical processes limit the electrical output of fuel cells is critical for evaluating system designs and performing diagnostics. Impedance spectroscopy was applied to cells to test the dynamic response of fuel cells and stacks thereof. Equivalent circuit models were fitted to the data, with each circuit element representing a different physical phenomenon. Data were measured at load currents for individual and groups of cells in the Nexa™ stack and to solid oxide button cells and larger cells in a 5-cell planar stack. A pulsed load was applied to individual NEXA™ stacks and stack pairs in series and parallel, and the dynamic potential response was measured. A similar pulsed load was applied to the stack model to simulate the resulting potential wave, which compared favorably with the experimental data. By testing uniformity, impurity tolerance, and dynamic load response, valuable information about fuel cells has been obtained and may be predicted from the formulated models.