Conducting polymer-coated corrosion resistant metallic bipolar plates for proton exchange membrane fuel cells

Shine Joseph, University of Texas at El Paso


Concerns over depleting stocks of natural resources and a growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by widespread burning of fossil fuels, and more energy demands brought the idea of alternative energy systems. Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells are one of the fast growing alternative energy technologies. PEM fuel cells generate electricity from an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and produce electricity, a small amount of heat and water and therefore, they are environmentally friendly. Fuel cells are more efficient than internal combustion engines and operate continuously as long as fuel is supplied from an external tank. Fuel cells in stacks are used for most applications because the current output of a PEM fuel cell is around 0.3--0.5 A/cm2. In fuel cell stacks, bipolar plates combine two cells in series with anode and cathode of adjacent cells. The main functions of bipolar plates are electron and gas transport. Bipolar plates are major components in weight and volume of the PEM fuel cell stack and are a significant contributor to the stack cost. The bipolar plate is therefore a key component if power density is to increase and cost to come down. Bipolar plate material should be corrosion resistant, conductive, gas impermeable, light weight (mobile applications) and economical. Graphite plates are used for bipolar plate applications but they are expensive, are brittle to make in thin plates with gas channels on sides, have high manufacturing cost and are gas permeable if too thin. Metals are preferable for bipolar plate application because of better mechanical properties, higher electrical conductivity, lower gas permeability and low cost. In this work Al 6061 and 304 stainless steel alloys are the materials selected for bipolar plates. These metals form non-conductive surface oxides in a PEM fuel cell environment and cause a high contact resistance. This internal resistance lowers the efficiency of PEM fuel cell system. In addition to this, metal dissolution can contaminate the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) and can cause system failure. These problems can be solved by coating the aluminum and stainless steel alloys with corrosion resistant and conductive polymers such as polyaniline and polypyrrole. These polymers can be applied to the metallic substrates by various methods such as electrochemical deposition, spraying and painting. Corrosion and contact resistance of the coated plates were tested under fuel cell conditions and showed promising results. Coatings were characterized by microscopy, infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and cyclic voltammetry.

Subject Area

Materials science|Energy

Recommended Citation

Joseph, Shine, "Conducting polymer-coated corrosion resistant metallic bipolar plates for proton exchange membrane fuel cells" (2005). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3196412.