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Flow in a Fuel Cell Stack

SOLVED WITH COMSOL MULTIPHYSICS 3.5a

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Flow in a Fuel Cell Stack


Introduction
A key optimization parameter in a fuel cell is the design of the reactant and product channels and inlets and outlets. Good designs require that the electrodes are well fed with a reactant and that products are removed as quickly as possible. A further desire for a good fuel-cell design is that fuel cells are as compact as possible. This saves on material costs and allows them to fit into smaller spaces (such as in a car). One important parameter for deciding good design is the fluid-flow characteristics of the feed stream to a fuel cell stack. This example deals with the gas channels on the air side of three bipolar plates. The channels in these plates are interconnected through cylindrical headers for the air inlet and outlet. This model solves the Navier-Stokes equations.

Model Definition
GEOMETRY

Figure 1 shows a 3D view of the model domain.


outlet

inlet

Figure 1: Diagram of the modeling geometry. The model shows the sixteen separate channels that are separated by the (not shown) electrodes and membrane in the z-dimension as well as the current collectors in the xy-plane.

FLOW IN A FUEL CELL STACK

Figure 2 shows the shape of each channel.

Figure 2: A view of the model geometry (Figure 1) from above. Flow occurs through the gray-shaded areas.
DOMAIN EQUATIONS

The fluid flow is described by the Navier-Stokes equations


T u ( u + ( u ) ) + ( u )u + p = 0 t

(1)

u = 0 where denotes the density (kg/m3), u represents the velocity (m/s), is the viscosity (Pas), and p is the pressure (Pa). The modeled fluid is a gas with a viscosity of 105 Pas and a density of 1 kg/m3.
BOUNDARY CONDITIONS

The model uses a pressure boundary condition for both the inlet and the outlet. This boundary condition fixes the pressure and assumes that the viscous stress is zero at the boundary, that is n [ ( u + ( u ) ) ] = 0 p = p0
T

(2)

You set the pressure, p0, to zero at the outlet and equal to the total pressure drop, dp, over the stack at the inlet. All other boundaries have the no slip condition u = 0 (3)

FLOW IN A FUEL CELL STACK

SOLVER AND MESH

To solve the model, use the iterative FGMRES solver with a geometric multigrid preconditioner, a choice that reduces memory requirements considerably. The solver uses several meshes: one base mesh and one or several coarser meshes. In this model one coarse level is sufficient. The solver is by default set to generate the coarser meshes automatically; however, in this model you define the coarse mesh manually. For the base mesh it is appropriate to resolve the channel width with two to three elements when using 2nd-order basis functions for the velocities. This is because the channel dimensions are small and the velocities are comparably small. The base mesh used in the model consists of approximately 31,400 elements yielding approximately 220,000 degrees of freedom (DOF). The coarser mesh uses the same mesh but 1st-order elements. It results in 49,000 DOF. Figure 3 shows a picture of the mesh.

Figure 3: Computational mesh.

FLOW IN A FUEL CELL STACK

Results
The pressure distribution (see Figure 4) is a key result. As almost all fuel cells run on gas streams, so the local pressure can affect their volumetric properties.

Figure 4: Pressure distribution in the feed channels of the fuel cell stack.

FLOW IN A FUEL CELL STACK

A more significant result is the velocity magnitude throughout the feed channels. Figure 5 shows the flow regime for all layers. For each layer, it is apparent that the velocity is greatest in the innermost channel, which has the shortest length.

Figure 5: Velocity magnitude in the feed channels of the fuel cell stack.

FLOW IN A FUEL CELL STACK

Figure 6 shows a close-up of the feed channels. You can see that the velocity is greater in the upper layers than in the lower ones.

Figure 6: A close-up of the velocity magnitude. A more uniform distribution in the channels is desired. Modifying the design by placing the outlet header toward the bottom of the stack would be preferable.

FLOW IN A FUEL CELL STACK