Anion exchange membrane fuel cells (AEMFCs) have been widely touted as a low-cost alternative to existing proton exchange membrane fuel cells. However, AEMFCs operating on air suffer from a severe performance penalty caused by carbonation from exposure to CO2. Many approaches to removing CO2 from the cathode inlet would consume valuable energy and complicate the systems-level balance-of-plant. Therefore, this work focuses on an electrochemical solution where CO2 removal would still generate power, but not expose an entire AEMFC stack to carbonation conditions. Such a system consists of two AEMFCs in series. The first AEMFC, which acts as an anion exchange CO2 separator (AECS), is relatively small and serves to scrub CO2 from the air. The AECS is powered by the hydrogen bleed from the second (i.e., main) AEMFC. A small amount of hydrogen is bled from the recycled hydrogen used in the main AEMFC to mitigate impurity build-up, including nitrogen gas from diffusion across its membrane. The second, main AEMFC operates on the purified air output from the AECS and fresh H2. This work shows that it is possible to use an AECS to lower the CO2 concentration in the AEMFC input air stream to values low enough that the main AEMFC can be operated stably for extended periods, 150 h in this demonstration. Also, in this study, AEMFCs are operated on AECS-purified air without experiencing a performance penalty. Lastly, the relative geometric active area of the AEMFC and AECS devices are evaluated and discussed.
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