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The Fuel Cell An Ideal Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Experiment

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Innovations in the CHE Laboratory

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1140.1 - 8.1140.13



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Paper Authors

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James Fenton

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H. Russell Kunz

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Suzanne Fenton

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1522

The Fuel Cell – An Ideal Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Experiment

Jung-Chou Lin, H. Russel Kunz, James M. Fenton, Suzanne S. Fenton University of Connecticut

Abstract Fuel cell based experiments embody principles in electrochemistry, thermodynamics, kinetics and transport and are ideally suited for the chemical engineering curricula. Experiments using a hydrogen proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell have been developed for the chemical engineering undergraduate laboratory. The experiments allow students to study the principles of fuel cell operation and familiarize themselves with fuel cell performance as a function of oxidant composition and operating temperature. Experimental data can be fit to a simple model from which ohmic losses, kinetic parameters and limiting current density (mass transfer limitations) can be estimated and compared to measured or theoretical values.

Introduction Because of their increasing viability as environmentally friendly energy sources and high chemical engineering content, fuel cell experiments have been developed for the chemical engineering undergraduate laboratory. A proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell was chosen for these experiments due to inherent advantages including use of a solid polymer electrolyte that reduces corrosion problems, a low operating temperature that allows quick startup, zero toxic emissions and fairly good performance compared to other fuel cells.

A cross-sectional diagram of a single-cell PEM fuel cell is shown in Figure 1. The proton exchange membrane (Nafion®) is in contact with the anode catalyst layer (shown on the left) and a cathode catalyst layer (shown on the right). Each catalyst layer is in contact with a gas diffusion layer. The membrane, catalyst layers and the gas diffusion layers make up what is called the membrane-electrode-assembly (MEA).

Fuel (hydrogen in this figure) is fed into the anode side of the fuel cell. Oxidant (oxygen, either in air or as a pure gas) enters the fuel cell through the cathode side. Hydrogen and oxygen are fed through flow channels and diffuse through gas diffusion layers to the catalyst on their respective sides of the MEA. Activated by the catalyst in the anode, hydrogen is oxidized to form protons and electrons. The protons move through the proton exchange membrane and the electrons travel from the anode through an external circuit to the cathode. At the cathode catalyst, oxygen reacts with the protons that move through the membrane and the electrons that travel through the circuit to form water and heat.

A general review of PEM fuel cell technology and basic electrochemical engineering principles can be found in references [1]-[7].

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright© 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Fenton, J., & Kunz, H. R., & Fenton, S. (2003, June), The Fuel Cell An Ideal Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Experiment Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11682

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