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Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Stack Design and Test in the Framework of
DURAMET Project

Article  in  Advances in Science and Technology · October 2014


DOI: 10.4028/www.scientific.net/AST.93.65

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Advances in Science and Technology Vol. 93 (2014) pp 65-69 Submitted: 16.05.2014
Online available since 2014/Oct/31 at www.scientific.net Accepted: 10.07.2014
© (2014) Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland
doi:10.4028/www.scientific.net/AST.93.65

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Stack Design and Test in the framework of
DURAMET Project

Orazio Barbera1,a*, Alessando Stassi1,b, David Sebastian1,c,


Vincenzo Baglio1,d, Antonino S. Aricò1,e
1
CNR – ITAE, National Research Council of Italy, Institute for Advanced Energy technologies, Via
Salita S. Lucia sopra contesse,5 98126 Messina
a b c d
orazio.barbera@itae.cnr.it, stassi@itae.cnr.it, sebastian@itae.cnr.it, baglio@itae.cnr.it
e
antonino.arico@itae.cnr.it

Keywords: Fuel cell stack design, DMFC, fuel cell stack manufacturing, planar stack

Abstract. Direct methanol fuel cell stacks, with different architectures have been developed. A fuel
cell planar stack, operating in passive mode, has been designed for portable application. The device
consists of 10 cells, with nominal power of 1.00 – 2.42 W, single cell active area of 4.85 cm2,
nominal current of 1.00 A, at room pressure and temperature. Two printed circuit boards have been
chosen to clamp and support the MEA and to electrically connect the active areas via conductive
pathways. To investigate the stack performance, 4 different boards with different feeding holes
shape have been designed. For high temperature operation purpose, a device with “stacked”
configuration has been designed and manufactured. Operating parameters are: nominal power of
150W, single cell active area of 100 cm2, nominal current of 25 A, cell number of 10. Promising
results have been obtained both for APU and portable applications.

Introduction
Methanol, which is characterized by low cost, easy storage and handling, and high energy
density, appears well-suited for portable fuel cells. Portable power is becoming important for many
electronic devices, such as notebook computers, personal digital assistants, power tools and cellular
phones. Currently, these devices are powered by primary and secondary batteries. The running time
and functionality of these electronic devices are often limited by the quantity of energy that can be
stored and carried within them. Advances in the development of portable fuel cells will have a great
impact on the use and development of modern electronic devices [1 - 4]. Whereas for portable
application there are some limits in terms of operating temperature range, for APU systems the high
temperature operation approach appears more appropriate [5 - 8]. APUs based on DMFCs are of
interest for several applications including the automotive field. Cars and other vehicles, from trucks
to airplanes, have power requirements beyond those for propulsion. Auxiliary-power requirements
are likely to grow significantly as developers incorporate additional electronics into vehicles.
According to these premises, the power output and the DMFC system around the stack can be quite
different for portable and APU applications. The stack designs for portable and APU applications
are different both in terms of architecture and operation conditions. The monopolar configuration in
combination with the passive mode ambient operation is adopted for portable applications whereas
the bipolar configuration in combination with high temperature is selected for the APU applications.

Stack design
Modular mini-stack with planar architecture design for portable purposes A direct methanol
fuel cell mini-stack has been designed with the specification listed below:
- Power density: 20 mW/cm2 – 50 mW/cm2 (r.t.-60°C)
- Nominal Power: 1.00 W – 2.42 W (r.t.-60°C)
- Single cell active area: 4,85 cm2

All rights reserved. No part of contents of this paper may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of TTP,
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66 6th Forum on New Materials - Part A

- Nominal current: 1,00 A


- Number of cell: 10
- Operative pressure: ambient
- Operative temperature: ambient, self-heating
Because the portable application, the
device has to be as simple as possible,
thus, it have to be operated without
recirculation pump or fan to feed
methanol and air respectively,
assembled with a limited number of
parts, light and easy to recharge. To
meet these requirements, the
architecture of the ten fuel cell stack
has been conceived as planar, and
modular, each pair of current collector
and clamping plates unified on a single
component, the reactants supplying
operated in passive mode. The stack
has been subdivided in two devices
with 5 cells each arranged in a planar
configuration. MEAs are prepared
disposing the 5 active areas on the
surface of a single membrane. Two
printed circuit boards (PCB) have been
chosen to clamp and support the MEA
and to electrically connect the five
active areas by gold pathways. In
correspondence of each active area, for
air and methanol feeding, five windows
are machined on the boards (Fig. 1a). In
this way, air and methanol reach the
active areas by natural convection
Figure 1: Single stack (a), assembling concept (b) (passive operation). Two gaskets made
of PTFE are used to prevent reactants
leakage. The two five cell stacks are
connected with the Methanol reservoir
as depicted in Fig 1b where an
exploded view of the stack is shown. as
can be observed, both of the anode
sides of the two stack are exposed to
the methanol, which is located on the
reservoir, two gaskets assures the
leakage of the fuel to be avoided. Fig. 2
shows a view of the assembled modular
stack. The reservoir, as stated, feeds the
two anodes, while the cathode sides are
directly exposed to the ambient air,
which spontaneously diffuses to the
Figure 2: A view of the assembled modular stack electrodes. The explained configuration
influences the fuel cell performance.
Advances in Science and Technology Vol. 93 67

The diffusion windows can be designed with or without internal ribs or holes, sustaining the
MEA active area, this implies that the fluid dynamics of the reactants and the distribution of the
clamping force can be influenced as
function of the ribs design. To
investigate the influence of the
diffusion windows geometry on the
stack performance, four different
boards with different holes shape have
been designed, as depicted in Fig. 3.
The four windows are
characterized by different ratios
between the open area and MEA
sustaining surfaces. The higher the
open surface the higher the diffusion
of the reactants became, while, the
higher the MEA sustaining surface the
lower the ohmic resistance became.
As consequence, the best compromise
have to be found.

Figure 3: A view of the different diffusion windows


100 W bipolar plates-based stack design and manufacturing for assisted power units (APU) A
direct methanol fuel cell stack has been designed and manufactured with the specification listed
below:
- Power density: 100-250 mW/cm2
- Nominal Power: 100-150 W
- Single cell active area: 100 cm2
- Nominal current: 25 A
- Number of cell: 10
- Operative pressure: up to 3 bar rel.
- Operative temperature: up to 110-130 °C
In this case, considering the APU
purposes, a “stacked” configuration
has been chosen. The ten cells are feed
via internal manifolds and a “Z” shape
of internal fluids circuits has been
selected.
Thus, the inlet and outlet of the
reactants are positioned on opposite
heads of the stack. Bipolar plates are
made of graphite; both Methanol and
air are uniformly distributed on the
electrode surface by a flow-field,
machined on the bipolar plate surface
(Fig. 4).
Figure 4: Anodic and cathodic graphite plates view Aluminum plates are used to clamp
the stack, copper plate to collect current. To obtain the same value of pressure loss of the anodic and
cathodic flow fields, they have been designed using different channels dimensions. In this way, the
pressure gradient between the membrane has been minimized. Fig. 4 depicts the anodic (right) and
cathodic (left) plates concept.
68 6th Forum on New Materials - Part A

The stack has been virtually assembled (Fig.5, left), to check the components alignment and
review the whole stack design. At this level of the design procedure, the volume the external
dimensions and mass of the stack can be estimated. The manufactured stack, ready for testing, is
shown Fig. 5 (right) where the current collectors, the graphite and the clamping plates can be
observed. Preliminary results have provided an output power exceeding 100W for this compact
stack design, that appears useful for UPS applications.

Figure 5: Stack virtual assembling (left), the manufactured stack ready for testing (right)

Summary
Two types of short stacks have been designed. A monopolar configuration operating at low
temperature under passive mode with small (4.85 cm2) active cell area and limited number of cells
(max 10 cells) has been identified. This has been selected as proof-of-concept for portable
applications. A bipolar stack configuration with bipolar plates made of graphite has been designed
and manufactured for high temperature operation, especially for application in assisted power units
(APU). Further improvements can be made after an extensive testing in combination with the active
materials developed in the project.

Acknowledgements
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's
Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2011 - 2014) for the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint
Technology Initiative under grant agreement DURAMET n°278054).

References
[1] V. Baglio, A. Stassi, F.V. Matera, A. Di Blasi, V. Antonucci, A.S. Arico`, Optimization of
properties and operating parameters of a passive DMFC mini-stack at ambient temperature, Journal
of Power Sources 180 (2008) 797–802.
[2] V. Baglio, A. Stassi, F.V. Matera, V. Antonucci, A.S. Aricò, Investigation of passive DMFC
mini-stacks at ambient temperature, Electrochimica Acta 54 (2009) 2004–2009.
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Colombo, E. Kopnin, Performance comparison of portable direct methanol fuel cell mini-stacks
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55 (2010) 6022–6027.
Advances in Science and Technology Vol. 93 69

[4] V. Baglio, A. Stassi, F. V.Matera, H. Kim, V. Antonucci, A. S. Aricò, AC-Impedance


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[7] A. Bates , S. Mukherjee , S. Hwang, S. C. Lee, O. Kwon, G. H. Choi, S. Park, Simulation and
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[8] B. Yu, Q. Yang, A. Kianimanesh, T. Freiheit, S.S. Park, H. Zhao b, D. Xue, A CFD model with
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6th Forum on New Materials - Part A
10.4028/www.scientific.net/AST.93

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Stack Design and Test in the Framework of DURAMET Project
10.4028/www.scientific.net/AST.93.65

DOI References
[1] V. Baglio, A. Stassi, F.V. Matera, A. Di Blasi, V. Antonucci, A.S. Arico`, Optimization of properties and
operating parameters of a passive DMFC mini-stack at ambient temperature, Journal of Power Sources 180
(2008) 797-802.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpowsour.2008.02.078
[2] V. Baglio, A. Stassi, F.V. Matera, V. Antonucci, A.S. Aricò, Investigation of passive DMFC mini-stacks
at ambient temperature, Electrochimica Acta 54 (2009) 2004-(2009).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.electacta.2008.07.061
[6] G. Giacoppo, O. Barbera, A. Carbone, I. Gatto, A. Sacca` , R. Pedicini, E. Passalacqua, 1. 5 kWe HT-
PEFC stack with composite MEA for CHP application, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 38 (2013)
11619-11627.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2013.04.044
[7] A. Bates , S. Mukherjee , S. Hwang, S. C. Lee, O. Kwon, G. H. Choi, S. Park, Simulation and
experimental analysis of the clamping pressure distribution in a PEM fuel cell stack, International Journal of
Hydrogen Energy 38 (2013) 6481-6493.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2013.03.049

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