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Designing multifunctional materials for proton exchange membrane fuel cells

Project of the research network "Reduction and reuse of CO2: renewable fuels for efficient electricity production"

At a glance



Proton exchange membrane fuel cells convert the chemical energy from a fuel (hydrogen) into electricity through a chemical reaction with water being the only by-product.

The fuel cell operation is determined by several physical and electrochemical processes. For this, special multifunctional materials are required. Efficient operation of a fuel cell requires tailored transport properties that take place in the porous materials. The research topic of this project is the experimental characterisation and model-based design of the multi-functional materials.


The goal of the research project is to improve multi-functional materials for proton exchange membrane fuel cells. The materials serve for optimal water management in the cells – in which the transport of liquid water, that is produced in the electrochemical reaction, is particularly important. Furthermore, the materials need to be cost-efficient and allow for simultaneous charge transport, heat transport, and gas transport.

Our goal is to develop and experimentally validate a computer model of fuel cells that includes the effects due to the production and transport of liquid water. To achieve this goal, we will: (i) determine the properties of the dry materials by using X-ray imaging and the algorithms for post-processing, (ii) develop a pore-scale model that includes the liquid water transport and its impact on other transport properties (gas transport, heat and charge) and (iii) investigate the behaviour of water in the vicinity of the material interfaces in the fuel cell.


The project will contribute to improve the performance of fuel cells and lower the price of conversion of chemical energy (stored in e.g. hydrogen) to electricity. An attractive price and a high power density will make proton exchange membrane fuel cells a competitive zero-emission opponent in comparison with the fossil fuel technologies in the mobility sector. Their application will contribute to lower the CO2-emissions in the transport sector. The same kind of fuel cells are used in residential applications for the combined production of heat and power.


proton exchange membrane fuel cells, multifunctional materials, multiphysics model, pore-scale model, mathematical modeling and simulation, microstructure analysis, tomography

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