Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells provide an alternative option to fossil fuel-based energy conversion devices. However, the corrosion of fuel cell components, specifically the bipolar plates, introduces contaminants (e.g., Fe, Ni) into the membrane electrode assembly (MEA). These contaminants accelerate the ionomer degradation by acting as a Fenton's reagent, decreasing the fuel cell's durability. This study presents the mechanism and the diffusion media properties affecting the transport of cation contaminants into the MEA. Cation contaminant transport was studied after altering the gas diffusion layers (GDLs) wettability, emulating the GDL properties after prolonged operation, by ex situ hydrogen peroxide treatment or in situ electrochemical potential cycling. A GDL with crack-free microporous layer (MPL) showed a lower cation transport rate to the catalyst layer than MPL with cracks after both ex situ and in situ treatment. A novel GDL was developed from modification of the conventional GDL via the addition of a hydrophobic layer to the GDL substrate, which suppressed the contaminant cation transport significantly. This novel GDL also showed improved fuel cell performance.
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