Micro-porous layers (MPLs) play an important role in the water management of polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs), but details of the mechanism that works to suppress water flooding has not been fully understood. In this study, the authors investigated water distribution at the interface between the MPL and the catalyst layer (CL) at the cathode side to clarify the effect of the MPL on the discharge of produced water. A freezing method was applied to observe the distribution of the condensed water, and the ice distribution on the CL surface was quantified by image processing. The effects of operating conditions on the water distribution were examined at normal temperature conditions. The distribution of ice formed on the surface of the CL with and without MPL after −10°C cold start operation was also established. Water transport rate in the vapor phase was analyzed based on temperature and vapor pressure gradient considerations. The experiments and the analysis showed that the MPL functions to prevent accumulation of water on the surface of the CL, resulting in less water flooding.

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