Electrospun, Proton-Conducting Nanofiber Mats for use in Advanced Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Electrodes Public
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For fuel cells to become commercially viable in a wider range of applications, the amount of catalyst must be reduced. One crucial area of the fuel cell assembly is the anode and cathode; these layers allow fuel and exhaust gases to diffuse, provide conduction paths for both protons and electrons, and house sites for electrocataytic reactions. Despite their multi-functionality and importance, these layers have received little attention in the way of engineering design. While Nafion and catalyst loading has been studied, the electrode layer is still considered a two-dimensional structure. By understanding the current electrode limitations, available materials, and interactions at the sites reaction sites, an intelligent, deliberate design of the anode and cathode layer can be undertaken. A three-dimensional, fibrous mat of continuous, networked proton-conducting fibers can decrease mass diffusion limitations while maintaining proton conductivity. Nafion can be formed into these types of fibers via the fabrication technique of electrospinning. By forcing a solution of Nafion, solvent, and carrier polymer through a small nozzle under high electric voltage, the polymer can be extruded into fibers with nanometer-scale diameters. The ability to control the fiber morphology lies with solution, environmental and equipment properties. In order to successfully fabricate Nafion nanofibers, we looked to both existing methodologies as well as mathematical models to try to predict behavior and fabricate our own nanofibers. Once fabricated, these mats are assembled in a membrane-electrode assembly and tested with both methanol and hydrogen as fuel, with performance compared against known data for conventional MEAs. We have been able to successfully electrospin NafionÂ® nanofibers continuously, creating fiber mats with fiber diameters near 400nm as verified by SEM. These mats were tested in a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) application as cathodes, and showed improved performance with a dilute methanol feed compared to conventional MEAs with equivalent Nafion and catalyst loading. An MEA fabricated with twin electrospun electrodes was compared against an equivalent conventional MEA, showing the same performance enhancement using a dilute methanol fuel.
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