Understanding how water produced in the cathode catalyst layer is removed during PEMFC operation can be critical for materials optimization and representative models. The present work combines in-situ and ex-situ experiments to determine the dominant water discharge mechanism when considering capillarity and vapor transport. Water flux of vapor driven by the thermal gradient in the cathode diffusion layer is shown to be sufficient to remove product water at high current densities with saturated gas in the gas delivery channels. The role of an intermediate microporous layer and its impact in vapor versus liquid transport is also considered. Through novel experimental techniques and capturing all key physical interactions it is concluded that vapor diffusion is the fundamental mechanism by which water is removed from the cathode catalyst layer.

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