Water management in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) has remained one of the most important issues that need to be addressed before its commercialization in automotive applications. Accumulation of water on the gas diffusion layer (GDL) surface in a PEMFC introduces a barrier for transport of reactant gases through the GDL to the catalyst layer. Despite the fact that the channel geometry is one of the key design parameters of a fluidic system, very limited research is available to study the effect of microchannel geometry on the two-phase flow structure. In this study, the droplet-wall dynamics and two-phase pressure drop across the water droplet present in a typical PEMFC channel, were examined in auto-competitive gas channel designs (0.4 x 0.7 mm channel cross section). The liquid water flow pattern inside the gas channel was analyzed for different air velocities. Experimental data was analyzed using the Concus-Finn condition to determine the wettability characteristics in the corner region. It was confirmed that the channel angle along with the air velocity and the channel material influences the water distribution and holdup within the channel. Dynamic contact angle emerged as an important parameter in controlling the droplet-wall interaction. Experiments were also performed to understand how the inlet location of the liquid droplet on the GDL surface affects the droplet dynamic behavior in the system. It was found that droplets emerging near the channel wall or under the land lead to corner filling of the channel. Improvements in the channel design has been proposed based on the artificial channel roughness created to act as capillary grooves to transport the liquid water away from the land area. For droplets emerging near the center of the channel, beside the filling and no-filling behavior reported in the literature, a new droplet jumping behavior was observed. As droplets grew and touched the sidewalls, they jumped off to the sidewall leaving the whole GDL exposed for gases to diffuse to the catalyst layer. A theoretical model was developed and a criterion was proposed to predict the droplet jumping behavior in the gas channel. A theoretical force balance model was proposed to predict the pressure force and air velocity required to remove the droplet from the channel to avoid complete channel blockage. The overall goal of this work was to identify the gas channel configuration that provides efficient water removal with a lower pressure drop in the system efficiency while meeting the US Department of Energy's specifications for a PEMFC for automotive application.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells--Mechanical properties; Two-phase flow; Fluid-structure interaction

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Microsystems Engineering (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Microsystems Engineering (KGCOE)


Satish G. Kandlikar


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at TK2933.P76 G67 2013


RIT – Main Campus

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