In the present scenario of a global initiative toward a sustainable energy future, the polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) has emerged as one of the most promising alternative energy conversion devices for various applications. Despite tremendous progress in recent years, a pivotal performance limitation in the PEFC comes from liquid water transport and the resulting flooding phenomena. Liquid water blocks the open pore space in the electrode and the fibrous diffusion layer leading to hindered oxygen transport. The electrode is also the only component in the entire PEFC sandwich which produces waste heat from the electrochemical reaction. The cathode electrode, being the host to several competing transport mechanisms, plays a crucial role in the overall PEFC performance limitation. In this work, an electrode model is presented in order to elucidate the coupled heat and water transport mechanisms. Two scenarios are specifically considered: (1) conventional, Nafion® impregnated, three-phase electrode with the hydrated polymeric membrane phase as the conveyer of protons where local electro-neutrality prevails; and (2) ultra-thin, two-phase, nano-structured electrode without the presence of ionomeric phase where charge accumulation due to electro-statics in the vicinity of the membrane-CL interface becomes important. The electrode model includes a physical description of heat and water balance along with electrochemical performance analysis in order to study the influence of electro-statics/electro-migration and phase change on the PEFC electrode performance.

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