This work presents a comparison between carbon felt-type and paper-type gas diffusion layers (GDLs) for polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells in terms of the similarities and the differences between their microstructures and the corresponding manner in which liquid water accumulated within the microstructures during operation. X-ray computed tomography (CT) was used to investigate the microstructure of single-layered GDLs (without a microporous layer (MPL)) and bilayered GDLs (with an MPL). In-operando synchrotron X-ray radiography was used to visualize the GDL liquid water accumulation during fuel cell operation as a function of current density. The felt-type GDLs studied here exhibited a more uniform porosity in the core regions, and the carbon fibers in the substrate were more prone to MPL intrusion. More liquid water accumulated in the felt-type GDLs during fuel cell operation; however, when differentiating between the microstructural impact of felt and paper GDLs, the presence of an MPL in bilayered GDLs was the most influential factor in liquid water management.

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