Water is the main product of the electrochemical reaction in a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. Where the water is produced over the active area of the cell, and how it accumulates within the flow fields and gas diffusion layers, strongly affects the performance of the device and influences operational considerations such as freeze and durability. In this work, the neutron radiography method was used to obtain two-dimensional distributions of liquid water in operating 50 cm2 fuel cells. Variations were made of flow field channel and diffusion media properties, to assess the effects on the overall volume and spatial distribution of accumulated water. Flow field channels with hydrophobic coating retain more water, but the distribution of a greater number of smaller slugs in the channel area improves fuel cell performance at high current density. Channels with triangular geometry retain less water than rectangular channels of the same cross-sectional area, and the water is mostly trapped in the two corners adjacent to the diffusion media. Also, it was found that cells constructed using diffusion media with lower in-plane gas permeability tended to retain less water. In some cases, large differences in fuel cell performance were observed with very small changes in accumulated water volume, suggesting that flooding within the electrode layer or at the electrode-diffusion media interface is the primary cause of the significant mass transport voltage loss.

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