The majority of the research on PEM fuel cells to date has been focused on assessing fuel cell behavior in the early stages of its life cycle. However, as widespread commercialization approaches, PEM fuel cells will be required to operate reliably for increasingly longer periods of time. It therefore also becomes equally important to characterize fuel cell performance at the end of its lifecycle. The reliability of a PEM fuel cell is dependent on the material properties, the manufacturing methods, and the design of its individual components. Among these components, the bipolar plates have received the least attention as a factor that may limit a fuel cell’s life cycle performance. Driven by the need for cost and weight reduction of fuel cell stacks, a significant amount of development work has been directed towards the development of new materials and designs for bipolar plates. Selection of an appropriate design and/or material for bipolar plates requires that reliability and durability data must be available, and that testing protocols appropriate and indicative of fuel cell operation be established. This paper provides a review fuel cell bipolar plate reliability and durability. Topics that will be addressed include bipolar plate functionality and design requirements, plate materials selection, plate failure modes. This is followed by a description of new bipolar plate reliability/durability test methods being developed at the CAMM Fuel Cell Research Group.

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