Acta Phys. -Chim. Sin. ›› 2019, Vol. 35 ›› Issue (5): 517-522.doi: 10.3866/PKU.WHXB201806011

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Effect of Ink Solvents on Low-Pt Loading Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell Performance

Wenhui CHEN,Shengli CHEN*()   

  • Received:2018-05-09 Published:2018-10-19
  • Contact: Shengli CHEN
  • Supported by:
    the National Natural Science Foundation of China(21633008);the National Natural Science Foundation of China(21673163)


Owing to the scarcity of platinum, it is of high importance to develop electrodes with low platinum metal loading and to thereby improve the utilization of Pt for the commercialization of proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). In comparison to conventional high-platinum electrodes, the thickness of the catalyst layer (CL) is thinner and the interatomic Pt spacing is larger for the low-Pt loading electrodes. The distribution of electrolyte ionomer and the electrode morphology, which are strongly influenced by the solvents used in the fabrication process, are therefore increasingly important factors for achieving high performance in the membrane electrode assembly (MEA). In this work, different solvents with various dielectric constants and evaporation rates were used to prepare the inks for low-Pt loading cathode (0.1 mg·cm-2) fabrication. First, the inks were fabricated by dispersing the catalyst and ionomer in different solvents which were then coated onto carbon paper to prepare the gas diffusion electrodes. The anode and cathode electrodes were then hot-pressed together with the Nafion membrane to produce the MEAs. The results showed a mixture of isopropanol-water (4:1) yielded the best-performing MEA during the single-cell tests compared to the other solvents tested. In order to elucidate the relationship between the performance of MEAs and the solvents, the structure and the surface morphology of the CL and the distribution of Nafion ionomer in the CL was characterized using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). A comparison of the SEM and TEM images of representative samples indicated that the best performing electrode had a much improved homogeneity in the surface morphology as well as the dispersion of catalyst and ionomer. This was because of the moderate evaporation rate and better dispersion, caused by the increased hydrogen bonding and high dielectric constant, respectively. The results from dynamic light scattering (DLS) showed that the size of the catalyst and ionomer aggregates are influenced by the solvents. It is suggested that larger aggregates might help the formation of holes in the CL for gas diffusion and water removal, with the optimum size found to be around 400–800 nm. In conclusion, the MEA fabricated from the isopropanol-water solvent exhibited a significantly increased power density (1.79 W·cm-2), and the utilization of Pt was increased to approximately 0.047 mg·W-1, which is among the best-performing fuel cells reported to date.

Key words: Proton exchange membrane fuel cell, Membrane electrode assemble, Solvent, Hydrogen bond, Dielectric constant


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