A three-dimensional, single-phase, isothermal numerical model of polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) is employed to investigate effects of lateral electron transport in gas diffusion layer (GDL) for the first time. An additional electron transport equation is solved in the catalyst and gas diffusion layers, and in the current collector. It is found that the lateral electronic resistance plays a critical role in determining the current distribution and cell performance. With reduced GDL thickness, the effect of the lateral electronic resistance becomes even stronger, because the cross-sectional area of GDL for lateral electron transport is smaller. Inclusion of GDL electron transport enables the thickness of GDL and widths of the gas channel and current collecting land to be optimized for better current distribution and cell performance. In addition, the present model enables: (1) direct incorporation of contact resistances emerging from GDL/catalyzed membrane and GDL/land interfaces in the solution process, (2) natural implementation of the total current as the more useful boundary condition than the cell voltage, and (3) stack modeling with cells connected in series and hence having the identical total current.

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