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Electrochemical properties of alternative polymer electrolytes in fuel cells

Time: Fri 2019-11-29 10.00

Location: F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Chemical Engineering

Doctoral student: Annika Carlson , Tillämpad elektrokemi

Opponent: Senior lecturer Mohamed Mamlouk, Newcastle University

Supervisor: Universitetslektor Rakel Lindström, Tillämpad elektrokemi; Professor Göran Lindbergh, Kemiteknik, Tillämpad elektrokemi; Professor Carina Lagergren, Kemiteknik, Tillämpad elektrokemi

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Fuel cells, using hydrogen as energy carrier, allow chemically‑stored energy to be utilized for many applications, including balancing the electrical grid and the propulsion of vehicles. To make the fuel cell technology more accessible and promote a sustainable energy society, this thesis focuses on alternative polymer electrolytes, as they can potentially lead to a lower cost and a more environmentally‑friendly fuel cell. The main subject is anion exchange membrane fuel cells (AEMFCs), for which the importance of gas diffusion electrode morphology and platinum electrode reactions are investigated. Properties of the membrane such as water flux during operation are evaluated. Furthermore, novel polymer electrolytes are studied: variations of poly(phenylene oxide)‑based membranes in AEMFCs; and cellulose‑based membranes in a proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC).

The AEMFC results show that the performance is dependent on the electrode morphology. Electrochemical experiments in a hydrogen/hydrogen cell combined with modelling show that the hydrogen oxidation reaction proceeds through the Tafel‑Volmer reaction pathway on platinum. Application of the model in a hydrogen/oxygen cell shows that the cathode has the slowest reaction rate. During operation, the water flux through the membrane is directed from the anode where water is produced to the cathode where it is consumed. This leads to an increase in water content at both electrodes, which implies that electrode flooding is more likely than dry‑out during operation. The effect of membrane thickness on water flux is shown to be larger than the effect of polymer structure for several different types of poly(phenylene oxide)‑based membranes. The comparison of these polymers also indicates that a high conductivity, for the relative humidity achieved in a fuel cell, promotes increased performance. Finally, the study of cellulose-based membranes in a PEMFC shows that cellulose as a renewable, natural polymer has promising properties, such as stable conductivity for relative humidities above 65 % and a low gas permeability.