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STUDY OF STRUCTURE-PROPERTY-PERFORMANCE OF THE POLYMER ELECTROLYTE MEMBRANE FUEL CELLS (PEMFCS)
With the surge of interest in the electrification of transportation driven by global climate change, the need for powertrains using non-carbon energy sources has become more urgent than ever. The fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) using polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have many advantages over the internal combustion engine (ICE) and other renewable energy vehicles such as high efficiency, zero-emission, fast fueling, unique power, and energy scalability (without heavy penalty from the increased mass). After three decades of intensive development, there are only several thousand FCEVs on the road, in contrast to the millions of battery electric vehicles (BEV) in use today. The biggest challenge of the widespread implantation of the PEMFCs is the cost, primarily due to the use of platinum catalysts. The high intrinsic catalyst activity exhibited using a rotating disc electrode (RDE) is rarely realized in the membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which is the core of PEMFC, due to the difference on the electrolyte(ionomer)/catalyst interfaces. Much of my Ph. D research effort is concentrated on how to reduce the Pt usage and improve the stability of catalyst to reduce the operation cost of fuel cells. Several approaches were practiced improving the performance of MEA in a fuel cell, such as optimizing the ink formulation and MEA fabrication method, enhancing proton conductivity of carbon support for catalysts, engineering the ionomer and catalyst interface via surface functionalization. Such studies unraveled the relationship between property, structure, and performance of MEA, and significantly improved the performance of MEA. Further, to reduce the cost of fuel cell operation, approaches that is to improve the stability of catalysts either in reducing Oswald ripening or limiting surface migration were practiced on developing novel catalysts. Such as doping anion into Pt and Ni alloy crystal structure, introducing PANI on catalyst surface. These approaches significantly improve the stability of catalyst and MEA. Finally, same as platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts, PGM-free catalysts as well as their MEAs were studied. A novel method of PGM-free MEA fabrication was developed which significantly reduced the thickness of catalyst layer, thus greatly reduced the mass transfer resistance. Also, a highly stable and active PGM-free catalyst was developed and can be considered as a strong competitor to replace the traditional PGM catalysts in MEA.