Effect of extended short-circuiting in proton exchange membrane fuel cells†
Short-circuiting is regularly utilized in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFCs) to reverse short-term reversible catalyst degradation. However, do these improvements in fuel cell performance and durability still exist after extended operation? We provide an answer to this question by comparing the performance and durability of a PEMFC under open-circuit voltage (OCV) and a commercial short-circuiting protocol, against a PEMFC under OCV without short-circuiting for the same extended period (∼144 h). The experimental results demonstrate the detrimental effect of extended short-circuiting on the durability of the catalyst and the performance of the fuel cell. Electrochemically active surface area losses reach ∼46% for the short-circuiting case, compared to only ∼18% losses for the OCV without short-circuiting. TEM and XPS measurements are employed to monitor the morphological changes of the catalyst layer, revealing that Ostwald ripening, carbon corrosion, and Pt migration and precipitation into the polymer membrane are the main degradation mechanisms of the cathode catalyst layer. At the end of PEMFC operation, XPS measurements reveal that only ∼0.1% (atomic) of Pt remains on the surface of the cathode catalyst layer after OCV with short-circuiting, compared to the initial ∼0.4% Pt of the unused cathode MEA and ∼0.3% Pt for the cathode MEA after OCV without short-circuiting. These results show that short-circuiting can cause facile degradation of the catalyst layer and significant decrease in fuel cell performance, rendering this technique non-beneficial for extended operation.