Development of a membrane electrode assembly ribbon architecture

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Sangra, Jaskaran S.
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Electronic thesis
Mechanical engineering
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Although the first fuel cell was invented in 1839 by Sir William Robert Grove, practical fuel cells were not developed until the 1960’s as part of the Apollo program. Due to the high efficiency and simple energy conversion process, numerous researchers have worked continuously to improve the materials and structure for fuel cells over the last several decades. The demand for clean and renewable energy has further accelerated the research activity tremendously in last a few decades. Now, the commercialization of fuel cells is at hand with possible applications including stationary, distributed, portable, mobile, and even biological power sources. Alternative fuel cells than the traditional stack architectures are required in order to eliminate the volume, constraints and costs associated with a traditional stack architecture with an emphasis on portable applications. This thesis focuses on the development of a ribbon architecture Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell. A ribbon type Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) consists of many single MEAs bonded in a lateral arrangement. The number of cells in the ribbon direction determines the cell voltage, so that additional cells can be added to achieve the higher output voltages. With this architecture, current travels through the ribbon in the ribbon long direction, with current collectors located at each end of the ribbon. This architecture eliminates the need for bipolar plates as with a stack architecture along with reactant gas follow fields and the heat system required by it. Rapid prototyping technique was used to fabricate test stands and the ribbon architecture successfully demonstrated appreciable performance. Certain discrepancy has been observed between actual and experimental data that comes from the complexity of sealing of the test stand. A manufacturing concept is also proposed for volume manufacturing of the ribbon architecture considering commercialization of fuel cells in the future. Also different configurations in which the ribbon architecture can be used have been proposed.
August 2008
School of Engineering
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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