Linking Perfluorosulfonic Acid Ionomer Chemistry and High-Current Density Performance in Fuel-Cell Electrodes
Transport phenomena are key in controlling the performance of electrochemical energy-conversion technologies and can be highly complex, involving multiple length scales and materials/phases. Material designs optimized for one reactant species transport however may inhibit other transport processes. We explore such trade-offs in the context of polymer-electrolyte fuel-cell electrodes, where ionomer thin films provide the necessary proton conductivity but retard oxygen transport to the Pt reaction site and cause interfacial resistance due to sulfonate/Pt interactions. We examine the electrode overall gas-transport resistance and its components as a function of ionomer content and chemistry. Low-equivalent-weight ionomers allow better dissolved-gas and proton transport due to greater water uptake and low crystallinity but also cause significant interfacial resistance due to the high density of sulfonic acid groups. These effects of equivalent weight are also observed via in situ ionic conductivity and CO displacement measurements. Of critical importance, the results are supported by ex situ ellipsometry and X-ray scattering of model thin-film systems, thereby providing direct linkages and applicability of model studies to probe complex heterogeneous structures. Structural and resultant performance changes in the electrode are shown to occur above a threshold sulfonic-group loading, highlighting the significance of ink-based interactions. Our findings and methodologies are applicable to a variety of solid-state energy-conversion devices and material designs.