Effect of interfacial water transport resistance on coupled proton and water transport across Nafion

May Jean Cheah, Ioannis G. Kevrekidis, Jay Benziger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Dynamic and steady-state water flux, current density, and resistance across a Nafion 115 membrane-electrode-assembly (MEA) were measured as functions of temperature, water activity, and applied potential. After step changes in applied potential, the current, MEA resistance, and water flux evolved to new values over 3000-5000 s, indicating a slow redistribution of water in the membrane. Steady-state current density initially increased linearly with increasing potential and then saturated at higher applied potentials. Water flux increases in the direction of current flow resulting from electro-osmotic drag. The coupled transport of water and protons was modeled with an explicit accounting for electro-osmotic drag, water diffusion, and interfacial water transport resistance across the vapor/membrane interface. The model shows that water is dragged inside the membrane by the proton current, but the net water flux into and out of the membrane is controlled by interfacial water transport at the membrane/vapor interface. The coupling of electro-osmotic drag and interfacial water transport redistributes the water in the membrane. Because water entering the membrane is limited by interfacial transport, an increase in current depletes water from the anode side of the membrane, increasing the membrane resistance there, which in turn limits the current. This feedback loop between current density and membrane resistance determines the stable steady-state operation at a fixed applied potential that results in current saturation. We show that interfacial water transport resistance substantially reduces the impact of electro-osmotic drag on polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10239-10250
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number34
StatePublished - Sep 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Materials Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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