A Two Dimensional Model of a Direct Propane Fuel Cell with an Interdigitated Flow Field

Title: A Two Dimensional Model of a Direct Propane Fuel Cell with an Interdigitated Flow Field
Authors: Khakdaman, Hamidreza
Date: 2012
Abstract: Increasing environmental concerns as well as diminishing fossil fuel reserves call for a new generation of energy conversion technologies. Fuel cells, which convert the chemical energy of a fuel directly to electrical energy, have been identified as one of the leading alternative energy conversion technologies. Fuel cells are more efficient than conventional heat engines with minimal pollutant emissions and superior scalability. Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFCs) which produce electricity from hydrogen have been widely investigated for transportation and stationary applications. The focus of this study is on the Direct Propane Fuel Cell (DPFC), which belongs to the PEMFC family, but consumes propane instead of hydrogen as feedstock. A drawback associated with DPFCs is that the propane reaction rate is much slower than that of hydrogen. Two ideas were suggested to overcome this issue: (i) operating at high temperatures (150-230oC), and (ii) keeping the propane partial pressure at the maximum possible value. An electrolyte material composed of zirconium phosphate (ZrP) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) was suggested because it is an acceptable proton conductor at high temperatures. In order to keep the propane partial pressure at the maximum value, interdigitated flow-fields were chosen to distribute propane through the anode catalyst layer. In order to evaluate the performance of a DPFC which operates at high temperature and uses interdigitated flow-fields, a computational approach was chosen. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) was used to create two 2-D mathematical models for DPFCs based on differential conservation equations. Two different approaches were investigated to model species transport in the electrolyte phase of the anode and cathode catalyst layers and the membrane layer. In the first approach, the migration phenomenon was assumed to be the only mechanism of proton transport. However, both migration and diffusion phenomena were considered as mechanisms of species transport in the second approach. Therefore, Ohm's law was used in the first approach and concentrated solution theory (Generalized Stefan-Maxwell equations) was used for the second one. Both models are isothermal. The models were solved numerically by implementing the partial differential equations and the boundary conditions in FreeFEM++ software which is based on Finite Element Methods. Programming in the C++ language was performed and the existing library of C++ classes and tools in FreeFEM++ were used. The final model contained 60 pages of original code, written specifically for this thesis. The models were used to predict the performance of a DPFC with different operating conditions and equipment design parameters. The results showed that using a specific combination of interdigitated flow-fields, ZrP-PTFE electrolyte having a proton conductivity of 0.05 S/cm, and operating at 230oC and 1 atm produced a performance (polarization curve) that was (a) far superior to anything in the DPFC published literature, and (b) competitive with the performance of direct methanol fuel cells. In addition, it was equivalent to that of hydrogen fuel cells at low current densities (30 mA/cm2).
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/22732
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -