The demand for clean and sustainable energy sources continuously increases. One of the promising ways to provide electrical power is using fuel cells. Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) represents the most common type of fuel cells. However, PEMFCs have not yet been fully commercialized because of the high cost and low performance. A main part of PEMFC, which significantly contributes to the cost and weight is the bipolar plate (BPP). The US Department of Energy (DOE) has recommended some physical properties for BPP for sustainable commercialization of PEMFC. Those set properties have yet to be met. Conductive polymer composites (CPCs) use conductive fillers such as carbon nanotube (CNT), carbon fiber (CF), and graphite (Gr) to impart electrical and thermal conductivities and can potentially provide an optimum combination of weight, cost, mechanical properties and conductivity characteristics for BPPs.
In the current work, CPCs of polycarbonate (PC) filled with singular filler of CNT, binary fillers of CNT and CF and ternary fillers of CNT, CF and Gr were fabricated using melt mixing method followed by compression molding. The through-plane and in-plane electrical conductivities of the CPCs were investigated. The results showed that the electrical percolation thresholds for the PC-CNT is ∼1 wt. % CNT in both the through-plane and in-plane directions. Addition of 3 wt. % CNT to PC composites with 10 - 30 wt. % CF improved the conductivity performance. It was noticed increasing CF content from 20 to 30 wt. % did not yield a big change in conductivity, so that at 20 wt. % CF, the through-plane and in-plane electrical conductivities are 0.11 S.cm−1 and 6.4 S.cm−1 respectively. Moreover, using 20 wt. % CF will allow for higher loading of graphite. To further enhance the conductivities towards the DOE recommendations, 30 wt. % Gr was introduced to the PC composite with binary filler (i.e., 3 wt. % CNT and 20 wt. % CF). The results showed that the through-plane and in-plane electrical conductivities were increased to 1.5 S.cm−1 and 13.5 S.cm−1, respectively. These properties recommend a potential application of polycarbonate based CPCs for BPP manufacturing.