In a PEM fuel cell, local current density can vary drastically under the land and channel areas. The non-uniform current density distribution not only affects the overall performance of the fuel cell, but also leads to the local temperature and concentration differentiation on the MEA, which can cause problems such as membrane dehydration and catalyst degradations at certain locations. In order to investigate the local current performance, the objective of this work is to directly measure the local current density variations across the land and channel at the cathode in a PEM fuel cell with partially-catalyzed MEAs.
First, the cathode flow plate is specially designed with a single-serpentine channel structure, and the gas diffusion electrode at cathode side is cut to fit this flow field size (5.0cm×1.3cm). Then five different partially-catalyzed MEAs with 1mm width corresponding to different locations from the middle of the gas channel to the middle of the land area are made. Fuel cells with each of the partially-catalyzed MEAs have been tested and the results provide the lateral current density distribution across the channel and the land areas. In the high cell voltage region, local current density is highest under the center of the land area and decreases toward the center of the channel area; while in the low cell voltage region local current density is highest under the middle of the channel area and decrease toward the center of the land area. Different flow rates are tested at the cathode side of the cell to study their effects on the local current density performance along the land-channel direction. And the results show that the flow rate barely has the effect on the current at the high cell voltage region, while it plays a significant role at the low voltage region due to the mass transport effect.