Investigation of thin/well-tunable liquid/gas diffusion layers exhibiting superior multifunctional performance in low-temperature electrolytic water splitting†
Liquid/gas diffusion layers (LGDLs), which are located between the catalyst layer (CL) and bipolar plate (BP), play an important role in enhancing the performance of water splitting in proton exchange membrane electrolyzer cells (PEMECs). They are expected to transport electrons, heat, and reactants/products simultaneously with minimum voltage, current, thermal, interfacial, and fluidic losses. In this study, the thin titanium-based LGDLs with straight-through pores and well-defined pore morphologies are comprehensively investigated for the first time. The novel LGDL with a 400 μm pore size and 0.7 porosity achieved a best-ever performance of 1.66 V at 2 A cm−2 and 80 °C, as compared to the published literature. The thin/well-tunable titanium based LGDLs remarkably reduce ohmic and activation losses, and it was found that porosity has a more significant impact on performance than pore size. In addition, an appropriate equivalent electrical circuit model has been established to quantify the effects of pore morphologies. The rapid electrochemical reaction phenomena at the center of the PEMEC are observed by coupling with high-speed and micro-scale visualization systems. The observed reactions contribute reasonable and pioneering data that elucidate the effects of porosity and pore size on the PEMEC performance. This study can be a new guide for future research and development towards high-efficiency and low-cost hydrogen energy.