Development of Pt/CNT Catalyst and Transport-Kinetic Characterization of PEMFC Catalyst Layer

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Vanbruinessen, Andrea
Fuel Cell , Catalysis
The electrochemical performance of a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell is known to be dominated by the cathode processes comprising the various reaction and transport steps in the overall oxygen electro-reduction to water occurring in the catalyst layer (CL). This thesis is concerned with one such transport process – oxygen transport in ionomer phase of the CL – and the synthesis/characterization of platinum catalyst on an alternative support – carbon nanotubes (CNT). Specifically, the objectives of the thesis are: (i) exploration of methods for determining the effective permeability of oxygen in the ionomer phase of the carbon-ionomer composite representing the PEMFC catalyst layer (ii) synthesis of Pt/CNT catalysts and characterization thereof. An electrochemical method for determination of oxygen permeability in Nafion and Nafion-carbon composite films was explored. Since the method is suitable for dense films, mathematical model for data analysis had to be modified to allow treatment of porous films. Applying the modified model to the porous Nafion film, the oxygen permeation in the Nafion phase was found to agree with the literature data for oxygen permeation in Nafion membranes. However, no relationship between the effective permeability and ionomer content was found. Two methods for synthesis of Pt/CNT catalysts were studied – the precipitation method and the colloidal/ethylene glycol method. Functionalization of CNTs was found to be critical to obtaining any significant amount of Pt deposition on CNT. The precipitation method did not yield reproducible results. Pt/CNT catalysts of desired properties were synthesized via the colloidal/EG method. It was found that a high pH of 8.5 to 10.5 resulted in smallest Pt particle size. The Pt particles size was determined to range 2-4 nm. The synthesized Pt/CNT catalysts were also tested in a fuel cell environment. Steady-state polarization curves in humidified H2/Air system were obtained that demonstrated performance comparable to commercial electrodes in that cell potential of greater than 0.6 V at current density of 800 mA/cm2 electrode area and a limiting current density of 1200 mA/cm2 electrode area were observed.
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