A Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack requires elastomeric gaskets in each cell to keep the reactant gases within their respective regions. If any gasket degrades or fails, the reactant gases (O2 and H2) can leak overboard or mix with each other directly during operation or during standby, and affect the overall operation and performance of the fuel cell. The degradation of four commercial gasket materials was investigated in a simulated fuel cell environment in this study. In an effort towards predicting lifetime of fuel cells, two solutions and two temperatures were used in the short-term, accelerated aging tests. Bend-strip environment crack resistance tests were performed on samples with various bend angles. Weight loss was monitored and surface structure changes were examined using optical microscopy on the samples exposed to the simulated fuel cell environment for selected periods of time. Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy was employed to study surface chemistry of the gasket materials before and after exposure to the simulated fuel cell environment over time. Stress and strain analysis was conducted using finite element method (FEM) to quantify the stress/state in test samples. The test results reveal that two silicone materials were degraded significantly while the other two did not show much degradation up to 42 weeks exposure to the simulated fuel cell environment. Optical microscopy and ATR-FTIR spectroscopy analysis indicate that the surface chemistry altered gradually via mechanisms involving de-cross linking and chain scission in the backbone. From experimental and numerical results, it is concluded that there is an interaction between chemistry and stress that appears to accelerate the degradation of the gasket materials in fuel cell environment.

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