International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 www.elsevier.

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Review of bipolar plates in PEM fuel cells: Flow-field designs
Xianguo Li∗ , Imran Sabir
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1 Received 7 April 2004; received in revised form 11 August 2004; accepted 2 September 2004 Available online 23 November 2004

Abstract The polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell is a promising candidate as zero-emission power source for transport and stationary cogeneration applications due to its high efficiency, low-temperature operation, high power density, fast startup, and system robustness. Bipolar plate is a vital component of PEM fuel cells, which supplies fuel and oxidant to reactive sites, removes reaction products, collects produced current and provides mechanical support for the cells in the stack. Bipolar plates constitute more than 60% of the weight and 30% of the total cost in a fuel cell stack. For this reason, the weight, volume and cost of the fuel cell stack can be reduced significantly by improving layout configuration of flow field and use of lightweight materials. Different combinations of materials, flow-field layouts and fabrication techniques have been developed for these plates to achieve aforementioned functions efficiently, with the aim of obtaining high performance and economic advantages. The present paper presents a comprehensive review of the flow-field layouts developed by different companies and research groups and the pros and cons associated with these designs. 2004 International Association for Hydrogen Energy. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: PEM fuel cell; Bipolar plate; Flow field; Flow channels

1. Introduction The polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is one of the most widely researched fuel cell technologies because it offers several advantages for transport and a number of other applications. Its low-temperature operation, high power density, fast start-up, system robustness, and low emissions have ensured that the majority of motor manufacturers are actively pursuing PEMFC research and development. Already in Europe with demonstration buses and passenger vehicles in California, for example, a first market introduction of fuel cell vehicles will be seen in the near future. However, there are still technical barriers to be overcome before fuel cell vehicles reach a significant market penetration [1–3].
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 519 888 4567/X 6843;

fax: +1 519 888 6197. E-mail address: x6li@uwaterloo.ca (X. Li).

During the past two decades, the research and development of the PEMFC with a Nafion membrane as electrolyte have received much attention. Much research has focussed on single cells of PEMFC or their components, such as novel membrane electrolytes, catalysts and structure, electrochemical reaction mechanisms and kinetics, as well as electrode materials and preparation. This has resulted in a number of alternatives to Nafion membrane technology with low load, high utilization catalyst yielding significantly higher power density than was available few years back. Improvements in cell design and manufacturing have further increased power, while reducing manufacturing costs, which is essential if the fuel cell is to compete with the internal combustion engine. For a given membrane/electrode assembly (MEA), the power density of a fuel cell stack can be significantly increased by reducing the profile of the bipolar plates. A key prerequisite for many power applications is the production of compact and lightweight PEMFC stacks, which may be

0360-3199/$30.00 2004 International Association for Hydrogen Energy. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijhydene.2004.09.019

optimal design must be sought for the BPPs because the above functions have conflicting requirements on the BPP design. internal manifolding. When the reactant flow channels are formed on the anode and cathode plates. otherwise safety concerns and hazardous situations may arise. 2. and the plate is called bipolar (separator) plate. the plates are normally referred to as fluid flow-field plates. electrically conductive plates. commonly referred to as the anode and the cathode plates. 2. 8]. I. When the flow channels are formed on both side of the same plate. Challenges remain. internal humidification. serpentine. BPPs supply the reactant gases through the flow channels to the electrodes and serve the purpose of electronically connecting one cell to another in the electrochemical cell stack. Mass distribution in a 33 kW PEMFC stacks [7]. hence it is desirable to produce plates with the smallest possible dimensions permissible (<3 mm in thickness) [US Department of Energy (DOE). The objective of this review article is to present a comprehensive overview of the state-of-the-art technology for the BPPs in PEMFCs and the current and future direction of the R&D activities that aim at the reduction in the weight. 1. or interdigitated flow fields. volume and cost of the fuel cell stack with the present goal being to develop a 50 kW stack system weighing less than 133 l and a cost of $35/kW (DOE). 1. 2. in particular. These plates also provide structural support for the thin and mechanically weak MEAs and means to facilitate water management within the cell. BPPs account for the bulk of the stack. The dominance of the bipolar plates (BPPs) in a PEMFC stacks is illustrated in Fig. respectively. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 achieved with appropriate selection of materials. Plate topologies and materials Fig. With the bipolar plate arrangement for current collection each of the MEAs (membrane electrode assembly) is interspersed between two fluidimpermeable. as shown in Fig. preventing them from mixing with each other. cooling is accomplished with accommodating separate cooling plates after a few cells in series. Li. In this stack design. . while a cooling fluid flows on the other side of the same plate in order to remove the waste heat generated in the cell. however. Topologies can include straight. oxidant and cooling fluid apart.360 X. that include reducing the weight. facilitate these functions. and these plates collectively have to keep the fuel.1. Functions BPPs being one of the most important components in PEMFC stacks must perform a number of functions well simultaneously in order to achieve good stack performance and lifetime. and flow channel layout configuration. volume and cost of BPPs with improved performance and lifetime. are potential areas of research for making this alternative clean power source compatible to its counterparts [4–6]. It is more often that one of the reactants flows on one side of such a plate. Therefore. Biopolar plates As discussed earlier. Bipolar plate design as a whole. the BPPs also facilitate heat management. and integrated cooling. one side serves as the anode plate and the other side as the cathode plate to the adjacent cell. In the absence of dedicated cooling plates.

5. impermeability to reactant gases for safe operation.e. integrated flow fields. 2. Channel cross-section The fluid flow channels are typically rectangular in crosssection. as summarized in [15]. etc. a variety of different designs are known and the conventional designs typically comprise either pin. As much as 50% increase in the output power density has been reported [13. series-parallel flow field. The most common methods of fabricating fluid flow channels on the BPPs require the engraving or milling of flow channels into the surface of the BPPs. both the cathode and the anode flow-field plates have an array of regularly spaced cubical 3.2.5 mm. Stack components of fuel cell [9].17]. 3. interdigitated flow field. After molding the plates at high temperature and pressure. although cubical and circular pins are most often used in practice. and triangular and hemispherical cross-sections have land width close to zero [11]. The flow channel dimensions range from a fraction of 1 about 2 mm in width and depth as a low limit for a reasonable fluid pressure loss due to friction losses. the time-effective design and optimization of the gas flow fields and BPPs remain one of the important issues for the cost reduction and performance improvement of PEM fuel cells. In spite of all the industrial R&D efforts. including the development of low-cost lightweight construction materials.X. semi-circular. width and land width have also been reported close to 1. respectively. Pin-type flow-field [16. triangular. in respect to physicochemical characteristics. 1. even though other configurations such as trapezoidal. In practice these design suggestions have limitations too. easy and automated fabrication for low cost. Pin-type flow field Examples of the pin-type flow fields are illustrated by Reiser and Sawyer [16] and Reiser [17] . As to the geometrical configurations of the gas flow fields. impact on PEMFC performance (i. high mechanical strength for stack integrity. and an example is shown in Fig. 2. 3. serpentine flow field. are uniform distribution of the reactant gases over the respective active electrode surface to minimize the concentration overpotential. 2. Simulation results for values of channel depth. and these pins can be in any shape. Fig. 6. such as 1. resistance to corrosion in severe cell environment for long lifetime.5. pin-type flow field.. cheap materials. for example triangular or near zero land width design might crush the MEA at high pressure contact areas that hampers the current collection. optimal design and fabrication methods and their . high values of electronic conductivity for current collection. Decreasing land width will increase hydrogen concentration at the anode. 2.14] just by appropriate distribution of gas flow fields alone. Fuel cell developers have used alternative designs.1. The flow-field network is formed by many pins arranged in a regular pattern. Normally. 4. energy efficiency and power density) [12]. straight or serpentine designs of flow-field channels. generally in a parallel flow configuration. the gas distribution channels are machined. 3. flow-field designs made from metal sheets. Flow-field layout design One of the main obstacles to large-scale commercialization of fuel cells is the gas flow fields and BPPs. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 361 Fig. and 0. Requirements The essential requirements for BPPs. Li. 3. I. 5.3. have been explored [10].

5–7. Since the number and size of the water droplets in the parallel channels are likely different. is required to move the droplets through the channel and out of the cell. 3. reactants flowing through such flow fields tend to follow the path of least resistance across the flow field. pindesign flow fields result in low reactant pressure drop. This inadequate pressure loss distribution results in non-uniform flow distribution of reactant gases among various active cells in the stack. which is further exemplified by General Electric and Hamilton Standard LANL No. particularly for the fuel stream Reynolds numbers may range from a few tens to low hundreds. usually the first few cells near the manifold inlet have more flow than those towards the end portion of the inlet . it is found that low and unstable cell voltages occur after extended periods of operation.2. because of cathode gas flow distribution and cell water management. Fig. However. As a consequence. tends to be large in comparison. I. Reactant concentration may be depleted in the stable recirculation zones as well. Hence. stagnant areas tend to form at various areas throughout the plate. 4 with the flow channel crosssectional shape. Water thus tends to collect in the channels in which little or no gas is passing. and the reactant gases flow across the plates through the intervening grooves formed by the pins. As a result. As the fuel cell operated continuously. the channels become wet. 5. the reactant gas then flows preferentially through the least obstructed channels. When air is used as the oxidant. Straight flow field Pollegri and Spaziante [18] showed a straight flow-field design. Few more examples of straight or parallel flow-field design are shown in Figs. 9-X53-D6272-1 (1980). Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 Inlet FlowChannel Outlet Rib or Channel Support Flow Channel Fig. as discussed earlier. which is normal to the BPPs. relative stable recirculation zones may arise behind each pin since the reactant flow is very slow in such a small flow channels. the water formed at the cathode accumulates in the flow channels adjacent to the cathode. This problem is similar to the one that occurs in the pin-type flow field. 4. The water droplets also tend to coalesce and form larger droplets. Accordingly. An example is shown in Fig. The actual fluid flow thus goes through a network of series and parallel flow paths. which may lead to channelling and the formation of stagnant areas. and the water thus tends to cling to the bottom and the sides of the channels. which are parallel to the edges of the plate. Li. inadequate product water removal and poor fuel cell performance. thus uneven reactant distribution. the gas flow-field plate includes a number of separate parallel flow channels connected to the gas inlet and exhaust headers. Further. and the pressure drop in the stack distribution manifold and piping system. A force. In this design. Another problem associated with this design is that the straight and parallel channels in the BPPs tend to be relatively short and have no directional changes.362 X. or circular pins protruding from the plates. Variation of configuration in straight or parallel flow field design [19]. Straight and parallel flow field and flow channel cross-section [18]. and the Reynolds number for the reactant flow remains small. the reactant gas has a very small pressure drop along these channels. These issues may become particularly problematic with flow fields having certain geometric shapes. the poor cell performance arises from the inadequate water drainage and poor gas flow distribution on the cathode side. decreasing the cell and stack performance. which increases with the size and number of the droplets.

[22] and Granata and Woodle [23] described a modified serpentine gas flow field across the plate surface. manifold. The contact area. which pass through the frame member and connect the fuel inlet manifold to the fuel channel inlets and similarly on the oxidant side. Example of straight or parallel flow field design [19]. cross flow and co-flow arrangements). the exact location of the ribs. Thus. 10.e. the smoothness of the rib surface. The variation in the contact areas of the ribs results in variation in the local stress and the associated cell strain. 3. The flow-field layout by Yang et al. whereas a significantly high local stress may lead to the damage and premature failure of cell components. parallel. a pressure differential required to drive reaction products out of the reactive area. Fig. etc. Essentially the flow restriction is accomplished through the use of fuel inlet tubes. [20] proposed a design with pressure gradients within the channels. Prior to flow field designs with linear. To ensure uniform compression load across the cell. 6. Straight or parallel flow field [19]. The flow channels on the anode and cathode . pressure differentials may desirably be increased in such flow fields. as shown schematically in Fig. adjacent pairs of the channels are interconnected by the spaced slots. However.3. uniform channels. Li.2. but skewed to the edge of the plate.. as defined by the overlap of the ribs on the anode and the cathode plates. A further problem with this design is the possible and often-arisen non-uniform distribution of a compressive load carried across the fuel cells within the stack when the flow channels on the anode and the cathode plates are In an attempt to tackle the problems with straight channels. 3. even though the pressure drop may not be as much as that achieved by serpentine layout. I. [21] introduced restrictions between the inlet of the manifold and inlet of the straight channels which in turn contribute towards pressure differential without using long. rib-edge machining and assembly alignments (plate to plate). Serpentine flow field Fig. it is necessary to have even distribution of both parallel and perpendicular contact areas (i. A minimum local stress is necessary to maintain minimum electrical (as well as thermal) contact resistance. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 363 aligned in parallel to allow for the concurrent and countercurrent flow arrangements for the fuel and oxidant stream. which creates a multiple of mini-serpentine flow paths transverse to the longitudinal gas flow along the channels. while the spaced slots allow cross-channel flow of the reactant gas in a staggered manner.1. This improved version of straight or parallel flow channels performs better than the one mentioned before. The cross-sectional or flow areas of inlet tubes are such that they create a flow restriction and. depends on the manufacturing tolerances affecting the width of the ribs. 8 and 9. However. thus the cost. 7. such that the resistance to reactant flow differs along the length of the adjacent channels as shown in Figs. Modified versions Johnson et al. there may be no significant local pressure differential between adjacent channels. tortuous channels as shown in Fig.X. therefore. The channels are generally linear and arranged parallel to one another. 11. One possible solution is to artificially place some restrictions at the inlet and the exit of these parallel flow channels to increase the pressure drop in the channels and hence improve the flow distribution among the active cells. by appropriately varying flow resistance in the channels. this complicates the design and fabrication. Spurrier et al.

Fig. plates are skewed in opposite directions in such a manner that exact co-flow arrangement is avoided. Modified straight flow channels design [20]. 9. 11. Straight channels flow field with restrictions [21]. So. Fig.364 X. I. and some cross flow and some nearly co-flow configuration are achieved. it is claimed that this design can improve reactant flow distribution across the electrode surface of the fuel cells. Li. 10. In reality. [22]. and produce a uniform distribution of stack compression loading on each fuel cell within the stack. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 Fig. Serpentine flow field by Spurrier et al. this design may incur high reactant pressure loss with potential . Straight flow channel design for pressure variation along the length [20]. Fig. 8.

Watkins et al. ensures adequate water removal by the gas flow through the channel. To resolve the problem of water flooding resulting from the inadequate water removal from the cells. Multiple serpentine flow channels [25]. for higher current density operation. shown schematically in Fig. liquid water can flood the serpentine channels and the electrodes after the cathode gas stream has been saturated. [13] reported that under the same experimental conditions. the total pressure loss along a flow channel will increase the amount of water vapour that can be carried and taken away by a given amount of the reactant gas flow if the relative humidity is maintained. this channel layout results in a relatively long reactant flow path. and the water vapour pressure is limited by the saturation pressure determined by the gas stream temperature. Single serpentine flow channel design [24]. so that the fuel cell performance at high current operations can be improved significantly. respectively. In addition. [26] described a stack arrangement where the coolant flow is substantially parallel to the reactant flow. 11b. which can be as much as over 30% of the stack power output. A schematic diagram is shown in Fig. I. Watkins et al. ˙ Pgas PT − Pvap Ngas (1) Hence. [13] pointed out that several continuous separate flow channels might be used in order to limit the pressure drop and thus minimize the parasitic power required to pressurize the air. and typically followed a serpentine path. In fact. Although multiple serpentine flow-field designs of this type reduce the reactant pressure drop relative to single serpentine designs. 12. such that the coolest region of each cooling layer coincides with the inlet region of the adjacent reactant layer where the gas stream has the lowest temperature and water content. Li. formation of stagnant areas due to the cross channel flow by the spaced slots as shown in Fig. Eq. This approach can be used to enhance water removal by both oxidant and fuel streams. the use of a single channel to collect all the liquid water produced from the electrode reaction may promote flooding of the single serpentine. if the reactant gas temperature is increased along the flow direction from the inlet to the outlet of the fuel cell. and the warmest region . Watkins et al. they are actually helpful for the removal of product water in vapour form. and remove the excess water by the anode stream. hence a substantial pressure drop and significant concentration gradients from the flow inlet to outlet. However. as demonstrated by Voss and Chow [19]. the total reactant gas pressure PT = Pvap + Pgas . Fig. 12. Such a single serpentine flow field forces the reactant flow to traverse the entire active area of the corresponding electrode thereby eliminating areas of stagnant flow. Then the molar flow rate of the water vapour and the reactant (either hydrogen or oxygen) is related as follows: ˙ Nvap Pvap Pvap = = . Although reactant pressure losses through the flow distribution fields increase the parasitic load and the degree of difficulty for hydrogen recirculation. Hence. a sufficient pressure loss in the anode flow channels can even draw water through the membrane from the cathode side. where Pvap and Pgas are the partial pressure of the water vapour and reactant gas in the reactant gas stream. However. This design. Fletcher et al.X. Assuming ideal gas behaviour. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 365 Fig. the capacity of the gas stream to absorb water also increases. Hence. 13. the reactant pressure drop through each of the serpentines remains relatively high due to the relatively long flow path of each serpentine channel. especially at high current densities. the output power from the cell could be increased by almost 50% with this new type of flow-field plates. [14] proposed using a continuous fluid-flow channel that had an inlet at one end and an outlet at the other. 13. thus the reactant concentration changes significantly from the flow inlet region to the exit region for each active cell. and no stagnant area formation at the cathode surface due to water accumulation. (1) also indicates that an increase in the water vapour partial pressure can enhance the ability of the reactant gas stream to remove water. especially when air is used as the oxidant or with very large gas flow field plates.

straight and serpentine design.1. Fig. Another design by Cavalca et al. 15. gas can flow from an upstream (high pressure) leg of the channel to a downstream leg of the same channel (low pressure) through the diffusion layer under the land. However. This design gives combined advantages from pin. [27].366 X. Modified versions Serpentine channels are designed to allow some limited gas movement between adjacent legs of the same chan- nel via the diffusion layer so as to expose the MEA confronting the land of consecutive legs of channel. this creates an undesirable non-uniform temperature distribution throughout the cell. Each of these segments has its own serpentine configuration whose legs are relatively short. . This type is shown in Fig. of each cooling layer coincides with the outlet region of the adjacent reactant layer where the reactant gas stream has the highest temperature and water content. In this regard. 14. which are further sub-divided into few sets of channels connected in series. the temperature increase along the cooling path is also used to increase the cathode stream temperature. Another noticeable point here is that the end of the medial leg closest to the inlet leg of the one segment (high pressure) is spaced farther from the bridging section than the end of the medial leg closest to the exit leg of the same segment to reduce gas bypass into the bridging section from the one segment. The layout design suggested by Rock [28] takes care of the above problem by subdividing the channels into a plurality of serially arranged segments or stages as shown in Fig. Li. Flow-field design by Cavalca et al. very little pressure drop exists between adjacent legs and between the ends of the legs. 3. enhancing the cathode stream’s capability of absorbing and removing the reaction product water in the vapour form. 14. flow field is divided in several sections with separate inlet and outlet. Each flow sector has parallel flow channels. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 Fig.. Serially linked serpentine flow field [28]. Thus. in long channel legs excessive pressure drop can occur between adjacent legs or between the ends of the legs.3. Due to the small pressure drop between the inlet and outlet ports. Such excessive pressure drop can in turn result in the gaseous reactant. I. as a result. short circuiting excessively between adjacent legs. as used in Ballard PEM Fuel Cells. [27] exhibits distribution of reactants more uniformly with higher average reactant concentrations and also pressure drop is low and prevents formation of stagnant flow areas. However. there are no water droplet blockages in the bipolar plates with the serpentine flow geometry. 15. Here. rather than flowing through the full length of the channel.

Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 367 Fig.X.5. This integrated reactant and coolant flow-field plate design eliminates the need for a separate cooling layer in a stack. on the porous electrode backing layers. easily leading to the occurrence of large concentration gradients across the backing layer and mass transfer limitation phenomenon for the cell operation.30] released a BPP design. However. Example of integrated flow-field design [31]. from the stack inlet manifold to the exit manifold. thus significantly improves the stack power density [29. for electrochemical reaction and electric power generation. 18. 16. as illustrated in Fig. 17. is predominantly by molecular diffusion through the electrode backing layer. Not only molecular diffusion is a slow process. these designs cannot maintain a uniform temperature distribution over the entire fuel cell surface.4. Integrated flow field Chow et al. Ernst and Mittleman [31] described a fluid flow-field plate assembly. but it is also . as schematically shown in Fig. which is divided into a multiple of fluid flow sub-plates. 16. as shown in Fig. In the same spirit. Reactant gas flow field and cooling fluid flow field built on the same plate surface [29. or to the lesser degree. I.30]. while traversing through the electrode surface of the active areas of the cell. and they provide continuous flow passages. and the reactant flow to the catalyst layer. Li. 3. required Fig.30]. the dominant reactant flow is in the direction parallel to the electrode surface. The gas flow field directly faces the electrochemically active area of the adjacent MEA. which possesses both reactant gas flow field and cooling flow field on the same plate surfaces. while the cooling flow field surrounds the gas flow field. 18. A cooling flow field may be positioned in-between and around each of the gas flow sub-plates [31]. and has its own reactant flow field adjacent to the electrochemically active area of the nearby MEA. 3. the flow channels are fabricated on the flow distribution plates (or BPPs). 17. [29. Conventional flow-field design mechanism [32]. Fig. Each sub-plate is electrically insulated from all other sub-plates of the same plate assembly. In this configuration. Interdigitated flow field For all the above designs of flow fields.

The parasitic power required for air compression may limit the application of this flow-field design to smaller stack sizes. preventing water flooding phenomenon and providing enhanced performance at high current density operation. However. When a fuel cell accumulates too much water at high current density.1. 3. [35] proposed a design for improved mass transfer using interdigitated flow-field design concept (Fig. and convection flow in the porous backing layer for enhanced water removal capability [33]. Such flow-field design can remove water effectively from the electrode structure. the reactants are transferred into the gas diffusion layer. tending the linear region of the cell potential versus current density plot. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that typical flow in the flow channels is laminar due to the small gas velocity and the small flow channel dimensions. The flow channels are not continuous from the stack inlet manifold to the exit manifold. This design outperforms conventional flow-field design. An interdigitated flow field. The interdigitated flow field is attractive since the reactant gases are forced to flow into the active layer of the electrodes. Modified versions As gases flow in the channels. I. about one-third of the electrode surface area is not utilized [34]. the diffusive mass transfer mechanism is changed into a forced convective mass transfer which causes limiting current density and maximum power density to increase significantly. and thus the concentration of reactant in the flow channels is reduced along the flow direction. where the forced convection (instead of diffusion) avoids flooding and gas diffusion limitations. consists of dead-ended flow channels built on the flow distribution plates. 20). as shown in Fig. thereby ex- Fig. Gurau et al. thus developing the convection velocity towards the catalyst layer and convection flow in the backing layer itself. difficult to remove liquid water which exists in the porous region of the backing layer. In this .5. interdigitated flow fields have been explored to provide convection velocity normal to the electrode surface for better mass transfer.368 X. To overcome mass transport limitations in porous electrodes. especially the oxidant air stream. Improved mass transfer channels (Variable channel cross section and/or Interdigitated concept) [35]. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 Fig. Li. especially on cathode side at high current densities. Therefore. as the reactant flow is forced under pressure to go through the porous electrode backing layer to reach the flow channels connected to the stack exit manifold. 19. Interdigitated flow-field design [32]. This reduction in concentration can result in non-uniform reaction across the fuel cell active area. 19. 20. a large pressure loss occurs for the reactant gas flow.

X. Fig. This advantage can be coupled with improved water removal by decreasing the outlet channel volume as well as by reducing the depth of it relative to inlet channel or reducing the outlet channel length relative to the inlet channel. whereby the rate at which the fluids flow to the outlet channel is increased causing improved fluid removal. Configurations for flow fields made by metal sheets [38] . Biomimetic flow-field concept for bipolar plates [37]. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 369 Fig. I. Issacci and Rehg [36] considered the gas block mechanism for cathode and anode .39]. etc. For improved water removal. Gas block mechanism for water removal in interdigitated flow field [36]. This Fig. Fig. Different approaches have been mentioned to achieve such a phenomenon. e. 24.g. 23. reduced land width permits greater mass flow rates as the concentration of the reactants is decreased. Bipolar plate flow-field design from metal sheets [38. 21. layout the outlet channel volume is less than the inlet channel volume. 22. the inlet channel can increase in width towards its terminus and outlet channel can increase in width away from its terminus. This will result in a closer positioning of the inlet and the outlet channel in the direction of flow of the fluids. such as outlet channel depth can be less than that of the inlet channel or may vary the width. Li. The channel width may also be varied so that the land width reduce along the channel from the inlet to the dead end.

etc. mechanical support to the MEA. Initial results are very promising. 4. heat management and maintaining the reactants separate. I. Rock [40] proposed a stamped BPP for PEM fuel cells from a single metallic sheet. Flow channels from metal sheets Flow through porous carbon has also been proposed for improved water management. stainless steel. decreases material usage for stack construction and reduces the weight and volume of the stack. as illustrated in Fig. sides in a fuel cell. 22. 25). Figs. [38–41]. 21. The patented ‘Biomimetic’ BPP technology developed by MFC (Morgan fuel cell) drew its inspiration from the natural world [37]. On the other surface of the plate is channel in fluid communication with each porous gas block medium [36].370 X. Conclusions Bipolar plate is one of the key components in PEM fuel cell stacks. current collection. they used one or more porous gas block media at points adjacent to the flow field. Stamped flow-field design on sheet metal [40].6. In practice. with tests already confirming a 16% increase in peak power [37]. which in turn is basically the design of flow channels formed on the two surfaces of the bipolar plates. It mimics the structure as seen in animal lungs and plant tissues to allow the gases to flow through the plate in a far more efficient way than has never been achieved before. Sabir / International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 30 (2005) 359 – 371 Fig. Looking at how animal lungs and plant leaves ‘breathe’. as shown in Fig. Such a BPP design eliminates the need for a separate cooling plate. The plates comprise corrosion-resistant thin metal sheets brazed together to provide a cooling flow field between the sheets and reactant gas flow fields on the two outside surfaces of the sheets. This structure reduces the pressure drop found in the industry-standard serpentine design of flow field and ensures a more even delivery of gas across the BPP. a better method may be the use of flow through porous metallic meshes (with high re- sistance to corrosion) to improve gas distribution on the cell plane. which allows them to be manufactured at a fraction of the time and cost of conventional methods. because the requirements on carrying out the bipolar plate functions optimally are . Proposals have been made to fabricate BPPs from metals such as titanium. water management. that have pore size such that water is sipped off to the outside of the flow field by capillary flow and the cathode gas is blocked from flowing through the medium. PEM fuel cell stack design often boils down to bipolar plate design. and it performs a number of essential functions in stack operation. 25. chromium. a structure consisting of large distribution channels feeding progressively to smaller capillaries is the most efficient way to distribute reactants. In this design. niobium. The Biomimetic plates also have the added advantage of being produced using MFC’s patented ElectroEtch system. 3. 23 and 24 illustrate possible configurations for the reactant and cooling flow fields. The plate has a serpentine flow field formed on one side and an interdigitated flow field formed on the opposite side such that a single plate member is usable as an anode and cathode side flow fields for adjacent fuel cells (Fig. Li. so that more power can be extracted from the fuel cell. such as reactants supply to the cell active area.

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