Performance degradation and durability of PEM fuel cells depend strongly upon transport and deformation characteristics of their components especially the polymer membrane. Physical properties of the membrane, such as its ionic conductivity and Young’s modulus depend on its water content, which varies significantly with operating conditions and during transients. Recent studies indicate that cyclic transients may induce hygrothermal fatigue that leads to the ultimate failure of the membrane shortening its lifetime, and thus, hindering the reliable use PEM fuel cells for automotive applications. In this work, we present two-dimensional simulations and analysis of coupled deformation and transport in PEM fuel cells. A two-dimensional cross-section of anode and cathode gas diffusion layers, and the membrane sandwiched between them is modeled using Maxwell-Stefan equations in the gas diffusion layers, Biot’s poroelasticity and Darcy’s law for deformation and water transport in the membrane and Ohm’s law for ionic currents in the membrane and electric currents in the gas diffusion electrodes. Steady-state deformation and transport of water in the membrane, transient responses to step changes in load and relative humidity of the anode and cathode are obtained from simulation experiments, which are conducted by means of a commercial finite-element package, COMSOL Multiphysics.

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