In Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFCs), water management and the effective transport of water through the gas-diffusion-layer (GDL) are key issues for improved performance at high power density and for durability during freeze-thaw cycles. The diffusion layer is a thin (∼150–350μm), porous material typically composed of a web of carbon fibers and particles, and is usually coated with hydrophobic Teflon to remove the excess water through capillary action. In-situ diagnostics of water movement and gas-reactant transport through this thin opaque substrate is challenging. Numerical analyses are typically based on simplified assumptions, such as Darcy’s Law and Leverett functions for the capillary pressure. The objective of this work is to develop a high fidelity CFD modeling and analysis tool to capture the details of multiphase transport through the porous GDL. The tool can be utilized to evaluate GDL material design concepts and optimize systems based on the interactions between cell design, materials, and operating conditions. The flow modeling is based on the Lattice Boltzmann Method (LBM). LBM is a powerful modeling tool to simulate multiphase flows. Its strength is in its kinetic theory based foundation, which provides a fundamental basis for incorporating intermolecular forces that lead to liquid-gas phase separation and capillary effects without resorting to expensive or ad-hoc interface reconstruction schemes. At the heart of the solution algorithm is a discrete form of the well-known Boltzmann Transport Equation (BTE) for molecular distribution, tailored to recover the continuum Navier-Stokes flow. The solution advances by a streaming and collision type algorithm, mimicking actual molecular physics, which makes it suitable for porous media involving complex boundaries. We developed a numerical scheme to reconstruct various porous GDL microstructures including Teflon loading. Single and multiphase LBM models are implemented to compute permeability. Predicted values are in good agreement with measured data. The present modeling approach resolves the GDL microstructures and captures the influence of fiber orientation on permeability and the influence of Teflon loading on the development of preferential flow paths through the GDL. These observations can potentially guide the development of novel GDL materials designed for efficient removal of water.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.