Two types of miniaturized PEM fuel cells are designed and characterized in comparison with a compact commercial fuel cell device in this paper. One has Nafion® membrane electrolyte sandwiched by two brass bipolar plates with micromachined meander-like gas channels. The cross-sectional area of the gas flow channel is approximately 250 by 250 (μm). The other uses the same Nafion® membrane and anode structure, but in stead of the brass plate, a thin stainless steel plate with perforated round holes is used at cathode side. The new cathode structure is expected to allow oxygen (air) being supplied by free-convection mass transfer. The characteristic curves of the fuel cell devices are measured. The activation loss and ohmic loss of the fuel cells have been estimated using empirical equations. Critical issues such as flow arrangement, water removing and air feeding modes concerning the fuel cell performance are investigated in this research. The experimental results demonstrate that the miniaturized fuel cell with free air convection mode is a simple and reliable way for fuel cell operation that could be employed in potential applications although the maximum achievable current density is less favorable due to limited mass transfer of oxygen (air). The relation between the fuel cell dimensions and the maximum achievable current density is also discussed with respect to free-convection mode of air feeding.

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