A three-dimensional, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of a PEM fuel cell is presented. The model consists of straight channels, porous gas diffusion layers, porous catalyst layers and a membrane. In this computational domain, most of the transport phenomena which govern the performance of the PEM fuel cell are dealt with in detail. The model solves the convective and diffusive transport of the gaseous phase in the fuel cell and allows prediction of the concentration of the species present. A special feature of the model is a method that allows detailed modelling and prediction of electrode kinetics. The transport of electrons in the gas diffusion layer and catalyst layer is accounted for, as well as the transport of protons in the membrane and catalyst layer. This provides the possibility of predicting the three-dimensional distribution of the activation overpotential in the catalyst layer. The current density dependency on the gas concentration and activation overpotential can thereby be addressed. The proposed model makes it possible to predict the effect of geometrical and material properties on the fuel cell’s performance. It is shown how the ionic conductivity and porosity of the catalyst layer affects the distribution of current density and further how this affects the polarization curve. The porosity and conductivity of the catalyst layer are some of the most difficult parameters to measure, estimate and especially control. Yet the proposed model shows how these two parameters can have significant influence on the performance of the fuel cell. The two parameters are shown to be key elements in adjusting the three-dimensional model to fit measured polarization curves. Results from the proposed model are compared to single cell measurements on a test MEA from IRD Fuel Cells.

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