Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Electrical Engineering

Major Professor

Shekhar Bhansali, Ph.D.


PEM fuel cell, Flow field, Thermal model, Microchannels


Fuel cells are predicted to be the power delivery devices of the future. They have many advantages such as the wide fuel selection, high energy density, high efficiency and an inherent safety which explains the immense interest in this power source. The need for advanced designs has been limited by the lack of understanding of the transport processes inside the fuel cell stack. The reactant gases undergo many processes in a fuel cell that cannot be observed. Some of these processes include convective and diffusional mass transport through various types of materials, phase change and chemical reaction. In order to optimize these variables, an accurate mathematical model can provide a valuable tool to gain insight into the processes that are occurring.

The goal of this dissertation is to develop a mathematical model for polymer electrolyte-based fuel cells to help contribute to a better understanding of fuel cell mass, heat and charge transport phenomena, to ultimately design more efficient fuel cells. The model is a two-phase, transient mathematical model created with MATLAB. The model was created by using each fuel cell layer as a control volume. In addition, each fuel cell layer was further divided into the number of nodes that the user inputs into the model. Transient heat and mass transfer equations were created for each node. The catalyst layers were modeled using porous electrode equations and the Butler-Volmer equation. The membrane model used Fick's law of diffusion and a set of empirical relations for water uptake and conductivity.

Additional work performed for this dissertation includes a mathematical model for predicting bolt torque, and the design and fabrication of four fuel cell stacks ranging in size from macro to micro scale for model validation. The work performed in this dissertation will help improve the designs of polymer electrolyte fuel cells, and other polymer membrane-based fuel cells (such as direct methanol fuel cells) in the future.