In a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell water is produced by electrochemical reactions in the catalyst layer on the cathode side. The water diffuses through the catalyst layer and a fibrous substrate into gas channels where it is transported away by convection. The fibrous substrate represents the gas diffusion media (GDM). Sometimes the GDM has a thin microporous layer on the side facing the catalyst layer. The same layer structure can be found on the anode side. All layers together are the porous layers of a PEM fuel cell. Under certain operating conditions condensation can occur in the porous layers which might lead to flooding conditions and — if the liquid water forms droplets which grow together in the gas channels — the complete blockage of the channels. Both situations can lead to a local starvation of reactant gases with negative impact on fuel cell performance and durability. The void space of the hydrophobic fibrous substrate in a PEM fuel cell can be interpreted as micro channels in a broader sense, especially if liquid phase transport from the catalyst layer towards the gas channels is in focus. Due to the small dimensions with effective channel diameter in the range of micrometer the flow of liquid water is governed by capillary forces. The same applies for the gas channels at low gas velocities since the Bond and Capillary numbers are well below one. Thus the investigation of liquid water flow and distribution under low gas velocities in the hydrophobic fibrous substrate and the spreading of liquid water along the hydrophilic gas channel walls under capillary action is of special interest for PEM fuel cells and investigated here.

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