We describe an advanced microfluidic hydrogen–air fuel cell (FC) that exhibits exceptional durability and high performance, most notably yielding stable output power (>100 days) without the use of an anode–cathode separator membrane. This FC embraces an entirely passive device architecture and, unlike conventional microfluidic designs that exploit laminar hydrodynamics, no external pumps are used to sustain or localize the reagent flow fields. The devices incorporate high surface area/porous metal and metal alloy electrodes that are embedded and fully immersed in liquid electrolyte confined in the channels of a poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS)-based microfluidic network. The polymeric network also serves as a self-supporting membrane through which oxygen and hydrogen are supplied to the cathode and alloy anode, respectively, by permeation. The operational stability of the device and its performance is strongly dependent on the nature of the electrolyte used (5 M H2SO4 or 2.5 M NaOH) and composition of the anode material. The latter choice is optimized to decrease the sensitivity of the system to oxygen cross-over while still maintaining high activity towards the hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR). Three types of high surface area anodes were tested in this work. These include: high-surface area electrodeposited Pt (Pt); high-surface area electrodeposited Pd (Pd); and thin palladium adlayers supported on a “porous” Pt electrode (Pd/Pt). The FCs display their best performance in 5 M H2SO4 using the Pd/Pt anode. This exceptional stability and performance was ascribed to several factors, namely: the high permeabilities of O2, H2, and CO2 in PDMS; the inhibition of the formation of insoluble carbonate species due to the presence of a highly acidic electrolyte; and the selectivity of the Pd/Pt anode toward the HOR. The stability of the device for long-term operation was modeled using a stack of three FCs as a power supply for a portable display that otherwise uses a 3 V battery.
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