New Inspiration Grant awarded on Nature-Inspired water management in PEM Fuel Cell

11 May 2018

We are pleased to announce that Jason Cho, Dan Brett, Marc-Olivier Coppens and Nikolay Kardjilov have been awarded a Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering Inspiration Grant on Nature-Inspired water management in Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cell.

The project is in collaboration with the Helmholtz Center Berlin for Materials and Energy.  

Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have tremendous potential as an energy technology with zero emissions at point of use. The rapid start-up time, low weight and high efficiency make PEMFCs particularly attractive for portable and automotive applications. However, water management remains a challenge to be overcome to ensure robust and reliable fuel cell operation.  

Recently, the researchers developed a novel water management strategy within the CNIE that draws inspiration from the passive directional liquid water transport across the skin of the thorny devil. The thorny devil is an Australian lizard with ridged scales which collects water from any part of its body by simply touching water. The water is transported to the mouth across the skin via the capillary action. The phenomenon is based on geometric principles, namely on a periodic pattern of interconnected capillary channels.  

Using a one-step processing technique developed in collaboration with the Electrochemical Innovation Lab (EIL), we reproduced the passive water transport phenomenon through fabrication of interconnected capillary channels on the surface of graphite flow field. Preliminary results indicate more than a twofold improvement in fuel cell power density with the integration of capillary channels onto the surface of a parallel flow field, due to superior liquid water separation and removal.  

During the course of this Inspiration Grant, the team plan to apply the nature-inspired water management strategy to stamped metal plates for use in state-of-the-art fuel cell stacks. Such has proven difficult under ambient condition, as the processing technique tends to yield metal oxides instead of capillary channels.

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New Inspiration Grant awarded on Nature-Inspired water management in PEM Fuel Cell