PEM Fuel Cells and Water Electrolyzers

Short Course at ECS meetings

This ECS short course introduces low-temperature, proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell and water electrolyzer technologies to attendees who are new to hydrogen technologies. The course content is structured to accommodate newcomers to the field of electrochemical science and engineering. The courses starts by showing how PEM fuel cells and water electrolyzers contribute to decarbonization strategy roadmaps. The basic underlying principles for the technologies’ operation are discussed, as well similarities and differences between PEM fuel cells and water electrolyzers. Theoretical aspects of the technologies are introduced including thermodynamics, electrode kinetics, and transport phenomena (both for the PEM separator and reactant-product transport in porous electrodes). Experimental analysis tools for characterizing and understanding PEM fuel cells and water electrolyzers, multi-scale modeling efforts, and system level design considerations are reviewed.

The production of clean hydrogen is critical today because its generation is central to decarbonizing numerous industrial sectors such as fertilizer production and metals refining (e.g., steel manufacturing) in addition to generating a fuel for seasonal energy storage and heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) transport. Hence, there is a strong need to develop individuals proficient in green hydrogen production.

Topics covered
  • Introduction
    • Motivation for clean hydrogen today and a historical perspective
    • Basic operating principles of PEM fuel cells and water electrolyzers – similarities and differences
    • Current research problems in the field
    • Basic terms: Faraday’s law of electrolysis and conservation of charge
  • Thermodynamics
    • Nernst equation and its relation to open-circuit voltage
    • Pourbaix diagrams – to understand corrosion of electrocatalyst, carbon supports, porous transport layers
    • Reference electrodes – standard and reversible hydrogen electrodes
  • Electrode kinetics
    • Brief introduction to electrochemical double layer
    • Butler-Volmer kinetics and its simplification to the Tafel equation
    • Exchange current density values, Tafel slopes, and electrochemically active surface areas and their relationship to electrode kinetic rates
  • Transport phenomena
    • Ionic conductivity in the PEM and its relationship to the Nernst-Planck description for ideal electrolyte conductivity
    • Limiting current values for estimating mass transfer resistance values and concentration polarization
    • Gas and liquid transport in porous electrodes
  • Voltage loss breakdown
    • Nernst potential, activation overpotential, ohmic overpotential, and concentration overpotential
  • Experimental analysis methods
    • Electrochemical methods – CV (e.g., ECSA), LSV (hydrogen crossover), impedance spectroscopy
    • Advanced metrology – electron microscopy and x-ray techniques
  • Brief introduction to multi-scale modeling
    • Ab-initio methods for electrocatalyst properties
    • Molecular dynamics simulations for assessing proton transport in PEMs
    • Continuum-level models for electrodes and membranes
  • System level consideration
    • Stack design
    • Ancillary units used with the fuel cell and water electrolyzer
    • Research priority areas to reduce costs and to meet durability requirements
About the instructor

Christopher G. Arges is a Research Engineer IV in the Transportation and Power Systems Division at the Argonne National Laboratory and Affiliate Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Prof. Arges completed his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2013 with Vijay Ramani as advisor. He pursued postdoctorate research at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering/Materials Science Division, University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory (2013-2015) with Paul Nealey. Arges’ research on polymeric materials for electrochemical processes has garnered numerous awards. He was an ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellow (2021-2022) and received the NSF CAREER Award, 2021 Louisiana State University (LSU) Rainmaker Award; 2019 LSU Alumni Rising Faculty Research Award; 2019 LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award; and 2018 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award. He has published over 65 peer-reviewed articles. His h-index is 30, and his work has over 3,300 citations. Arges has one patent granted and five filed. He served as a Guest Editor for the Journal of The Electrochemical Society Focus Issue on Separations and Sustainability, ECS Interface, and the Journal of Power Sources. He has also served as the Chair for the ECS Industrial Electrochemistry and Electrochemical Engineering (IE&EE) Division Awards Committee, and as member at large, chair, and session organizer for the ECS IE&EE and Energy Technology Divisions.