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Polymer electrolyte fuel cells

 PEFC stack of the kW class with metallic bipolar platesFigure 1: PEFC stack of the kW class with metallic bipolar plates

Fuel cells are an important component of the emerging renewable energy sector. They have the potential to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and result in lower harmful pollution of the atmosphere and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, thus mitigating the effects of climate change. For fuel cells to compete with other technologies, it is necessary that they are engineered to the highest possible standards using the most advanced tools. These include analysis, performance of physical experiments, as well as the development and application of advanced mathematical models.

There are a number of different fuel cell types under development. These include high temperature polymer electrolyte fuel cells (HT-PEFC) as well low temperature polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs).

High temperature polymer electrolyte fuel cells are operated at temperatures from 160 ° C to 180 ° C. This leads to a higher tolerance of the Pt catalyst against carbon monoxide adsorption compared to low temperature PEFC, which are operated up to 90 ° C. Additionally, gas humidification can be omitted and exhaust water is removed in gaseous state. This makes a HT-PEFC a perfect fit for systems which are operated on the basis of hydrogen rich gases coming from reforming processes. This is of importance for mobile and stationary applications, where middle distillates (e. g. jet fuel, diesel, light fuel oil) are used.

Low-temperature polymer electrolyte fuel cells a best suited when pure hydrogen is available e.g. from pressured vessels like in cars. One main advantage is their cold-start capability in comparison to HT-PEFC. On the contrary they are more prone to poisoning and the water management is more difficult.

Our major topics for research activities for both fuel cell types range from electrochemical characterization of electrodes with respect to their inner structure up to the design of fuel cell stacks. Furthermore, mathematical models are developed on the basis of experimental validation. The design process of fuel cells and stacks is supported by engineering simulation tools.

Figure 1 shows a PEFC stack in the kilowatt power range.


Modellierung und Simulation

Modelling and Simulation
• Experimental characterization of fluid flow in channels and porous materials
• Flow simulation in porous materials with the Lattice Boltzmann method
• Fluid flow in fuel cells with Computational Fluid Dynamics



Technology development
• HT-PEFC stack development
• Fuel cell stack simulation with CFD
• Graphitic bipolar plates
• Metallic bipolar plates
• Protective coatings



Fuel cell stack operation
• Thermic management
• Fluid flow distribution in Stacks



Fuel cell components
• Corrosion study on bipolar plates
• Structure of the GDL
• Distribution of phosphoric acid in membrane electrode assemblies of HT-PEFC
• Structure and properties of membrane and electrodes of HT-PEFC



Applied electro-chemistry
• Characterization of fuel cells
• Corrosion of bipolar plates
• Model development



External link 4m-centre (Opens new window)
External link ieafuelcell (Opens new window)
External link jcns (Opens new window)

Team Polymer electrolyte fuel cells

Team NiedertemperaturelektrolyseCopyright: IEK-3, Forschungszentrum Jülich

from right to left: Prof. Dr. Werner Lehnert (head of polymer electrolyte fuel cells), Prof. Dr. Steven Beale (Computational Fluid Dynamics), Dr. Uwe Reimer (team leader modelling), Dieter Froning, Mian Bilal Hussain, Philipp Irmscher, Junliang Yu, Dr. Vitali Weißbecker, Yu Lin, Birgit Schumacher, Yun Cai, Niklas Adams, Yasser Rahim, Wei Zou, Eugen Hoppe, Shidong Zhang, Niklas Selke, Dr. Diankai Qiu, Ruiyu Li, Shuai Liu, Max Harraß, Laura Hofer, Prof. Martin Andersson (also: Lund University, Sweden / Computational Fluid Dynamics), Dr. Holger Janßen (team leader stack engineering)

Additional Information


Prof. Dr. Werner Lehnert
Phone: +49 2461 61-3915

> more Prof. Dr. Lehnert